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How does it feel to destroy a theatre? Pretty good actually! Written by Emma Frankland

[Photo credit: Rosie Powell]

Ovalhouse has had an incredible performance history on this location for the past 55 years. From the work of queer and feminist theatre legends like Gay Sweatshop and Monstrous Regiment to being a constant home for young people’s groups, OAP aerobics and, at one time, the UK Black Panthers. And this will be the final season on its current site...

I’ve seen many performances in this building over the years and personally it’s been an important place in my development as an artist.

Some productions that stand out for me were Chris Goode’s ‘God/ Head’ (during rehearsal for which I was a guest performer and was one of the earliest times I recall coming out to somebody as trans) and La John Joseph’s ‘Boy In a Dress’, staged amongst an imaginary demolition with a beautiful dress made of paper. Remnants of both shows remain as fragments of posters on a toilet wall. There are so many histories in this building.

The first work I ever did on my None of Us is Yet a Robot project was in this building and when researching Ovalhouse’s trans histories, I was reminded that a trans vigil I held in 2015 was the catalyst for gender neutral public toilets signage being implemented - something that, incredibly, has remained in place ever since, making Ovalhouse surely one of the earliest adopters of inclusive bathroom signage that doesn’t simply repurpose accessible toilets as “gender neutral”.

This fact is typical of their ethos and what, I think, makes it such a unique philosophy - to always be a home for the voice that needs it most in that moment.

And now we are demolishing it, with love and kindness... and a group of kick ass trans women and femmes from all over the world. And, in 2019, trans women are definitely a vulnerable group that require a voice.

I’m so excited by the core company, we’ve come together from the UK, Indonesia and North America and it’s a group of well established, strong trans femmes.

From the UK, Travis Alabanza whose incredible show Burgerz, has changed the way in which audiences are engaging with trans work. Historian and performer, Morgan M Page whose podcast “one from the vaults” documents all the “dirt, glamour and gossip of trans history” and has taught me so much about our past.

We are joined by Gein Wong who was the director of World Pride’s ‘Stonewall 45” event in Toronto and by Indonesian artist Tamarra, with whom I travelled South Sulawesi earlier this year - spending time with and learning from an ancient community of trans people.

Each guest brings their own individual strength and fire and the combination of us all together has been electric. Especially as historically we are kept apart... further to the onstage company, we have a large and talented group of designers, artists and writers who are all, also, trans identified.. and on each night we’ll be joined by a guest performer, also from the trans community.

Across the 6 weeks of the project we’ll have seen 30 trans artists collaborate together to make something - it feels game changing. The manner in which we communicate and support each other’s needs - the care.

Ovalhouse continues to offer a space for radical and urgent performance.. even as the building is literally demolished around us.

Emma Frankland

We Dig
Ovalhouse
4-19 October
info and tickets: www.ovalhouse.com

[Photo credit: Rosie Powell]