I didn’t come out until I was 25, and when I did there was a very small minority of people who told me they had always known, and it irked me, because I hadn’t always known. I grew up in a world where LGBTQ+ people did not seem to exist. Section 28 meant that not once were LGBT+ people mentioned when I was at school, no teachers were out and the entire school syllabus was incredibly heterosexual (and male, and white…) And although I knew something was missing from my world, it took me a long time, and meeting my own queer role models as an adult, to finally grasp what it was.
I used to work a lot with teenagers tackling homophobic bullying in secondary schools, which definitely helped me channel the anger I felt at the previous lack of LGBT+ role models in my life in to something positive; I usually used to leave at the end of the day feeling a difference had really been made. I really enjoyed this job, but started realising that the reason homophobia was still rife in secondary schools, is because really, tackling it at that stage is too late. If children grew up with the LGBT+ community as a part of their landscape, in their books, on TV and in theatre, and in their daily lives, then surely it would usualise the LGBT+ community for them? From this point I decided I wanted to make LGBT+ theatre for kids. Something interactive and fun that just happened to have LGBT+ characters in it. I was very fortunate that Marie McCarthy and Omnibus Theatre gave me the opportunity and a space to do this two years ago in their 96 Fest – which is where Once Upon A City was born. Originally it was just me, telling a story, but in the past two years it’s grown tremendously – we built another actor in to make it feel more like a show than a story, added sound and recruited the wonderful Jennifer Lunn to direct.
To me it feels important that this story is delivered to our young audiences by an all queer team. It’s a debate I’ve had with many recently ‘it’s just acting, so anyone can play the roles.’ Which one level is absolutely true, of course an actor can play any role. But there’s something about the heart and the drive of the show that I believe is different when you have actors that understand what it’s like to grow up without LGBT+ role models, we feel the urgency of this work so much more, because we’ve lived in the world where it didn’t exist for us.
Since the first shows at Omnibus Theatre in 2018 we have toured the UK with this show, reaching an audience of around 700 people to this date, so we are incredibly excited to be returning with our new version this half term. Although there are LGBT+ characters in this show, it’s certainly a show for everyone. And although there’s a wedding, it’s not the end of the story, we wanted this tale to feel a bit more feminist, so the real story is about Princess Lila’s journey in to forging her comedy career.
My hope for this show is that for the small number of children in the audiences that will grow up to be part of the LGBT+ community will not have to spend years trying to figure something out that feels just out of reach, my hope is for the children in the audience that grow up to have friends that are LGBT+ will feel empowered to support them and stand up for them should they need it, my hope is that children in the audience that have two mums or two dads will feel seen, but mostly and most importantly, I hope everyone will laugh at Princess Lila’s very funny jokes.