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The Rife Team

BUTTERFLY: a new play uncovering untold queer stories in Bristol

Director Sam Jones talks us through his play about queer stories that have been purposely buried – until now

The Stonewall riots, the formation of ACT UP, the first Gay Pride marches… these monumental moments have defined how queer history is told, with good reason. Each of them has broken down deeply entrenched stigma around queerness, and have led us to the relatively enlightened age we live in today. But for every time we refer to these stories (and these stories alone), we push less-publicised but just as inspiring stories aside.

BUTTERFLY is a new play from young Bristol director Sam Jones, who has pinpointed ten queer stories that he thinks deserve to be told and turned them into an exciting new production. We spoke to him about LGBT histories, the impact one person can make, and the young talent behind these stories.

Playing 5-7th March 2019 at the Loco Klub, BUTTERFLY is a new play which brings together eight true stories of misfit queer characters across time. From a drag queen fighting in World War II, to the radical lesbian ‘menaces’ of the 70s, these stories are about those who said ‘no’ when the world threatened to push their voices deeper underground. Performed in Bristol’s subterranean network of tunnels The Loco Klub, this exciting new play unearths untold stories, buried until now. The stories range from loud-and-proud activism, to the individual acts of defiance, told boldly through monologue, dance and music.

What drew you to this project?
About six months ago, I was speaking to an older man from the LGBT community, and he started telling me all these stories about how life was for him growing up. These stories were full of defiance, bravery and love. It surprised me that there were so many stories that I couldn’t even imagine. Not only did I want to know more about queer history, I wanted to know more about how it was, and what people did on a very personal level, when faced with a society which discounted their existence. Essentially the play grew out of a fascination with the things people have done from across queer history, and a desire to understand people.

How were the ten stories featured in the play chosen?
From the start we wanted there to be real variety. The LGBT community encompasses so much, we wanted to strike a balance between human moments shared between individuals, and big acts of defiance. We also decided to make a conscious effort to unearth stories which have been forgotten or purposely hidden. It was important to us not we didn’t just want to retell narratives which have been told thousands of times over.

Why have these stories been untold until now?
When we are told the stories of LGBT people, they tend to be one of two things: sensationalised or simplistic. These stories are untold because we have dug out the human figures at the hearts of the events; the play isn’t interested as much in the political moment for that riot, but who threw that brick, who were they, why did they do it?  I never took history at school, and feel like it’s important that watching this play won’t feel like a history lesson, but will be full of empathy, passion and love.

What’s the relevance of the play’s title?
Really, the play is about chaos theory, which suggests that butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico has the power to cause a hurricane in China. BUTTERFLY is about how these small, human acts of defiance, of love, passion and anger come together to create huge change across time.

Why is Bristol the best place to stage this play?
Many of the stories we have included are about individuals who lived or still live in Bristol. As we have researched, we found an entire history of the city which most Bristolians don’t know about. We felt that showcasing them in the city (literally, beneath the city) itself was important. By bringing audiences underground we are immersing them in the world of these characters. We’ll feel their pain, their anger, their frustration.

The crew and the cast are all young talent. What do you think this adds to the production?
We decided to cast all our characters as people under 25. I felt like putting these older figures in the bodies of younger people creates a really interesting dynamic, showcasing how the past has paved the way for the young queer people of today. This play will feel bold, exciting and fresh, with dancing, singing and laughter among the more dramatic moments, ideal for the younger adults of Bristol like myself. I feel that seeing these older figures played by people their own age, these audiences will feel inspired to make change themselves – what will your story be? On the crew side, young talent is always full of so many ideas and passion. This production is so open in terms of design elements, we want this play to feel bold and having young impassioned voices on the team means ideas feel limitless and exciting.

As a prolific young director, what advice do you have for other ascendant directors?
I don’t really know! The only thing I could share is what I find myself doing… follow the stories which excite you and those you find yourself wanting to share. Then, with theatre especially, I think it’s important to find a cracking good team who are as passionate as you are about those stories. Allow conversations and discussions to blossom, then take the leap and start to think practically about what an audience might see. Chances are, if a little group of you find something exciting, an audience will share that love in the end.

What’s next for you after BUTTERFLY?
I’m currently assistant directing a play at the Tobacco Factory Theatre called Chaos by Laura Lomas, a play formed by the young company, which will be on in the Bristol Old Vic in early April which will be my first project after BUTTERFLY. Aside from this, I have a few ideas flying around for what the next play could be, and two short film scripts I want to direct soon.

BUTTERFLY runs from 5-7th March 2019 at the Loco Klub, Bristol. Get a ticket over on Headfirst now.