All Monday evenings should end like this. With glitter rituals and ‘Paris is Burning’ snippets aside dancing on what was five minutes previous the performance stage. That is what I feel was the general consensus about the opening night of Fierce Festival’s ‘Pilot Nights’. The scratch night did much to many, it opened up a lot of interesting and intimate conversations and it ended with politics, pizza and prosecco.

Atmosphere and Location

Stan’s Cafe hosted the scratch night and it allowed the theatre makers to be as free as possible. We were moved from inside the main theatre space to outside in the construction garage part and then back inside again. It was quite strange actually, how little fuss and how much trust there was from the audience’s part. I immediately noticed how much the audience trusted the work throughout the evening, things were silently communicated and people got it, people knew the ques and knew when the piece ended or when it paused which says a lot for works in progress, as they all were on this night.

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Fierce is known for that space in Birmingham where things get experimental. Aaron Wright, Artistic Director, tells me that the night is all about the beginnings of ideas and is focused on the feedback from audiences.  He explains that ‘the rest of the festival is international and exciting – much like the values it was founded on: responding to a need to show international, experimental, oturageous and often quite queer pieces’. As someone previously unacquainted with Fierce (and quite new to scratch theatre too) it made me feel like a different audience member. The journey that was curated by the artists themselves as well as the organisers made me feel completely aware of the individual message and the overall sense of the festival.

Performances of the night

The line up reflected Fierce: eclectic and unapologetic. Starting the evening was Ginny Lemon and Meating People is Easy with a piece which explored queer politics, feminism, witchcraft, gender, propaganda and pop culture through visuals and live music. Benedict Douglas presents ‘a retaliation against loneliness’ with ‘HOMECOMING’ a piece like no other with ‘a monstrous queer avatar against the effigy of suffocating heterosexual domesticity’. (this piece was performed outside (on the night of the ‘hurricane’) and caused passers-by to question whether we were part of a cult). Tom Thom was a continuous performance throughout the night where Tom Cassani and Thom Shaw spent the evening looking for, finding and embracing each other.

I interviewed the rest of the performers and theatre-makers and found out a little bit about their pieces and perspectives.

Danni Ebanks-Ingram

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No bias but Danni is incredible, may you understand and absorb that. Her piece ‘Paris is Still Burning’ is inspired by the film, ‘Paris is Burning’. Her piece explores ball culture  and the confusion and misdirected appreciation around it. Just before the interval I speak to her about her art. Fresh off the performance stage she tells me that ‘straight away (ball culture) interests me because it is a subculture that is still struggling.’ She explains that there was ‘a big interest in ‘Paris is Burning’ and seeing Black and Latino queer/gay men mainly because queer culture is appropriated and we don’t even know it. I remember knowing vogue as Madonna, who really is Madonna? Nobody really knows where ball culture comes from. This is the community that it comes from.’

When I ask her about her personal response to the piece she tells me that the piece ‘feels regressive. I’ve been building this piece for 2 years now and it’s not where my attention is anymore.’ This links in to discussion about Danni’s current projects: Black British and Queer (BBQ). We talk (too much) about the process of being influenced by something and then breaking off and recognising your own story. For Danni, ball culture and ‘Paris is Burning’ still influences her new project BBQ but not in the same way. BBQ is interested in archiving that culture. This led to discussion about her art-form. When I ask her what kind of an artist she is, she tells me that she is an interdisciplinary artist. She brings in her media understanding, her visuals and films, dance and more. Better, none of it is set. It is organic, it is acting in the space. ‘Paris Hasn’t Stopped Burning’ uses wood because Danni wanted something to stack but also wanted something that links in with the idea of burning.

danni poem

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Selina Bonelli

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This piece begins with a lot of paper rustling; Selina asks us to grab a few documents and read along with her performance. We tried to organise ourselves, get the correct order of documents (we fail) and try and prepare ourselves for what is coming.

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‘Speaking with the (oppressor’s) tongue’ springs from ‘the premise that the English language is already biased and based on privilege and Western notions of entitlement’. She uses the writings of Theresa May to demonstrate this. When I interview Selina I realise straight away that I never actually heard her voice during her performance (she fills her mouth with bongela several times and uses a certain phallic pumping device to speak through in order to mimic certain oral sexual activity (you get it?)). Her accent is great though; she is half Italian and American but has lived in South Africa and I can’t remember where else.

She tells me that her piece is ‘trying not to be misogynistic but as a woman I have an anxiety of repeating the same things. I don’t agree with or like Theresa May, but it’s not about liking her. Unfortunately the language transcends gender and we have to question the violence of it. We have to think about the usability of language and what happens when we try and take that away’ (we as audience members couldn’t understand her, which makes a point too). There was an intentional comedic and tragic element to it which adds to it’s genius.

Dorian Electra

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Dorian has a lot of energy, this you must know. She is a pop musician and a music video director ‘whose work focuses on the history of sexuality and gender’. I interview her mid pizza and prosecco and we start talking and she tells me that this is her first time performing in Birmingham and that she loves the event. She particularly loves that it is a queer-focused event where her work really fits well. Her development as an artist happened with the release of some of her work ‘Ode to the Clitoris’ which led to collaborations with Chicago drag artist and director Imp Queen. She particularly appreciates the feedback from her work and thrives off that. When I ask her to describe her work she tells me ‘Politics and Art mixed with Pop music. It’s fun without being overly serious, has a message and acts as a safe space for queer people’.

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dorian and her back-up dancers- my favourite is the taller one named mood-killer

Joseph Morgan Schofield

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Meet Joseph Morgan Schofield, surely the greatest storyteller to grace the stage with glitter and Dr. Martens at once. ‘Here comes the sun’ is descried as ‘a ritual to avert the apocalypse and fight back against the crises and anxieties of day to day life’. When I interview Joseph, he doesn’t hesitate to address the fact that his piece sometimes feels unrehearsed aside the other scripted performances. He tells me that it is all real. Based off an experience he really had. Joseph is normally a body artist but with improvised cabaret bits it fell into this, fell into a script for tonight. When I ask Joseph what is next, he tells me that he ‘wants to turn it into an hour-long show, think about image and text. It’s about survival, the magic stuff is real – Norse queers did those rituals a thousand years ago, I want to research some more and I want to include this research in the piece’. Performance Art influences Joseph and moving to London, being part of a queer scene, finding space and confidence to express self all adds to this journey. He tells me that becoming an artist happened by accident but I don’t believe him, he clearly has a unique way of storytelling that was bound to be unleashed.

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The night was wonderful, glorious, unexpected, intentionally unpalatable at times, impossible at other ones, (scantily risk assessed?) truly carefree and intelligent. It was everything I haven’t witnessed in theatre and that is the mark of a successful scratch night. It is also a reason to be full of expectation for the rest of the festival. Definitely do check out the brochure  to find out what else is happening – the festival ends Sunday 22nd October in Brum!

Amara Amaryah x

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