Queer theatre company Outbox’s show, And The Rest Of Me Floats, is a playful, anarchic celebration of gender expression
“Being different can be painful and it can be violent; but it's often exciting, ground-breaking, hedonistic, hilarious, and generally fabulous. And that felt like a pretty good starting point for a play.” Director Ben Buratta is reflecting on the inception of queer theatre company Outbox’s new play And The Rest Of Me Floats (ATROMF) currently being performed as part of the 2019 programme of London’s Bush Theatre.
Dedicated to “making theatre queerly”, Buratta founded Outbox in 2010 because he was frustrated with “the lack of quality, truly queer theatre” at the time. “Yes, there were lots of 'gay' plays,” he says, “but I found it hard to find theatre that represented and portrayed lives other than the affluent, chiselled, white gay male. I wanted to create work that was intersectional; told the stories of queer people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities in a way that was exciting, new and bold.”
As a platform which discusses LGBTQIA+ issues through performance, Outbox is also a stage from which Buratta aims to represent and celebrate the vast array of queer talent that the theatre world marginalises. “It is essential to Outbox's ethos that we cast queer performers in all of our shows,” Buratta says, “There is such a massive wealth of talent that is currently massively underrepresented.”
As the company’s latest instalment, ATROMF explores the lives of trans, non-binary and queer communities navigating a society which often seeks to categorise and police them. Playful, powerful, and anarchic, a cast of LGBTQIA+ performers combine autobiographical performance, movement, pop songs, stand-up and dress-up in a vibrant celebration of gender expression and identity. Cast members don colourful frocks, jeans and tees, stockings, and garters, sharing their anecdotes about coming out, trying on dresses, and feeling trapped – the latter evocatively conveyed by a winding plastic sheet.
For Buratta, this is the perfect theatre show for the current climate in which transphobic rhetoric is on the rise and gender non-conforming people struggle to be seen and heard. “ATROMF felt absolutely necessary in this time when trans and gender diverse people face a damaging and dangerous backlash in the British media,” he explains. “We needed to tell our stories in a way that allowed us to author our own stories, be in charge of the narrative, and celebrate the wonderful diversity that our community offers society.”
For Outbox Associate Artist and ATROMF cast member, Yasmin Zadeh, the play is a message of optimism. “I hope the message that people take from the show is one of empowerment and celebration,” they reflects. There are so many amazing a things about being queer and gender non conforming. Hopefully this show is one small step forward in changing people's preconceived ideas and perceptions surrounding the LGBTQIA+ community whilst having a big party at the same time.”
One of the most powerful aspects of ATROMF is its expression of very personal, yet often shared experiences. In Zadeh’s favourite scene, INTERNET, the performers explore the concept of the internet as a safe and welcoming haven for trans kids who might not find the support and acceptance that they need in their offline lives.
During the scene, Zadeh and fellow performer Tamir Amar Pettet live out their teenage fantasies in an online chat room. “Myself pretending to be a music producer called Calvin who splits his time between LA... and Southampton (who is exactly like Justin Timberlake). And Tamir, an emo punk from Bournemouth named Gemma Genocide. A scene queen ruled by the darkness. In the scene we flirt and discuss our fictitious lives and it's a homage to our teenage dreams.” When reflecting on the scene they adds, “The internet for a lot of young queer kids can be a real life line and we wanted to show a positive aspect to the internet. It seems a lot of the cast found comfort and friendship online where they couldn't in the school corridors.”
Outbox acknowledges the importance of platforming queer communities so they can share their experiences and also flourish as actors and performers. While there are agencies such The Queer House representing queer performers, and some companies producing excellent queer plays, there remains a distinct lack of representation in the mainstream theatre scene.
We still hear regular news stories about cis actors being cast in trans roles, and many major queer plays (Fun Home, Angels in America) continue to cast straight actors in queer roles. “There is a long way to go,” Buratta says, “queer actors are not on an even playing field, which is why queer plays like this getting the support of mainstream venues (like Bush Theatre) is incredibly important.”