‘There is only so long that traditional binary conception of gender can go on’

Come as Your Are festival, Bullish, Field and McGlynn

Come as Your Are festival, Bullish, Field and McGlynn - Credit: Archant

Bridget Galton talks to Camden People’s Theatre’s Brian Logan about the venue’s latest festival of eclectic work celebrating trans and non-binary, Come As You Are

Come As You Are

Come As You Are - Credit: Archant

Barely a week goes by without a fresh strand of the transgender debate playing out in the media.

In a month where schools have been attacked for tolerant policies towards trans pupils, and ITV announced a drama featuring a boy who identifies as a girl, the discussion is raging in technicolour at Camden People’s Theatre.

Venue co-director Brian Logan says progressive thinking about gender is “having a moment”.

The Hampstead Road theatre has responded with the latest of its curated festivals addressing big social issues (past subjects range from the General Election to London’s housing crisis and feminism).

Come As You Are explores trans, non-binary and gender-queer in typically provocative style with an eclectic programme including works in progress, cabaret, workshops, panel discussions, dance theatre and performance art.

“Most of the artists speak directly to the audience, it’s a real cross fertilisation between cabaret and theatre or blurring distinctions between live and performance art,” he says.

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Logan hails the shift in attitudes as a moment of self expression and a liberating cultural change.

“We do these festivals in response to a groundswell of work being made by a community of artists. This one is very much a response to the whole discourse around gender which has revolutionised in recent years. These artists are in eye of the storm engaged in these conversations and lots of people are interested in the discussion.”

The diverse programme sprang from an open call for submissions.

“Gender-anarchists” staging work include Milk Presents’ Bullish. A CPT commission it is written from personal testimony and borrows the Greek story of the Minotaur – a half man half bull trapped in a labyrinth - as a metaphor for “feeling you are in a body that doesn’t reflect your gender.”

CPT favourite Mamoru Iriguchi’s cabaret act cum lecture Journey from Man to Woman, feminist drag show Pecs and Ray Filar’s combination of electro punk songs, sci fi, striptease and spoken word are among the works aimed at dismantling the masculine versus feminine and the systems that protect it.

Pablo Pakula investigates monolithic ideas of masculinity and what it is to be men, and Jo Hauge’s Britney Spears tribute is inspired by shaving her head in the same week as the pop star.

Meanwhile Oi cissy! is a personal exploration of the day to day experience of its cast of trans and non binary performers.

“Our festivals try to be a mixed bag” says Logan, a self confessed “middle aged straight Scottish guy”.

“The performers are coming at it from different angles, some from personal experience. There are politics and sensitivities surrounding the issues and there has been a backlash from people uncomfortable with these developments.

“While this festival broadly celebrates that agenda we do create space for a panel discussion to talk about the backlash.”

Asked why he thinks there’s been a genderquake in recent years he replies: “I’ve just come back from the Edinburgh Fringe and seen shows that seem to be pushing back against the identity politics agenda but it feels as though a top has blown.

“There is only so long that fairly traditional binary conception of gender can go on, the centre cannot hold, a whole generation no longer felt it was doing it’s job and people aren’t prepared to live inside a system that doesn’t really reflect their lives.”

He feels lucky to be surrounded by people who make him shake up his own ideas.

“I hold up my hands up, some of it blows your mind. It takes a lot of adjusting and we need to make adjustments to the language we use but it’s much more exciting to embrace it, let your mind travel that journey and find new ways of seeing.

“We want to welcome people through the door who are still on that journey of understanding. I hope it throws it all up in the air in a playful entertaining fun and open exploration.”


Come As You Are runs until September 30.