As the UK homelessness crisis worsens, a new play, No Sweat, uncovers the often forgotten LGBTQ+ displaced youth finding temporary shelter in gay saunas. Working with young LGBTQ+ homeless and ex-homeless people in London Vicky Moran has created a work that shines a light on 24% of the UK’s homeless youth population.
Combining experiences from some of the production’s cast and creatives and verbatim interview clips, No Sweat, focuses on three men under one temporary roof, running head on into threats of violence, sexual exploitation and mental health problems, played by Denholm Spurr, Manish Gandhi and James Haymer.
With No Sweat running at London’s Pleasance Theatre until February 29th, The Queer Review spoke exclusively with the play’s writer and director Vicky Moran.
The Queer Review: You’ve worked with young LGBTQ+ ex/homeless people and Cardboard Citizens, a leading homelessness organisation in the UK. Tell us a bit about your experience and how that inspired you to write this play?
Vicky Moran: “I studied Drama at university before going on to do an MA in Applied Theatre at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. From there I went on to do placements at a number of brilliant organisations with multiple communities including Chickenshed. It’s a really inclusive theatre company for young people based in North London. Also Clean Break, which an amazing company founded by women in prison who believe in the power of theatre to transform lives.”
“I’ve also spent some time in Ethiopia working with street kids and doing some journalism work at a youth festival in South Africa. I then founded a Queer projects company with some friends called Sourpuss which is still going. All of that work led me to start running workshops across hostels, prisons, rehab centres and community and youth centres around the UK. It was from there that I got a job with Cardboard Citizens where I was Assistant Director. A brilliant organisation who have been making work with and for homeless people for more than 25 years. My time at Cardboard Citizens taught me a lot, but using art and theatre to truly try and make social change is what started it for me.”
There’s a strong focus on real life stories throughout the play, how did you approach the people you interviewed?
“I started to meet up with people in café’s and reached out to them via email or in many cases it was people I already knew from working in the homeless sector. I met with them, built up trust by being as non-judgemental, friendly, sensitive and empathetic as possible. And then from there I found people just started talking. A lot of people love sharing their story, many are lonely and sometimes it’s easier to talk to strangers anyway, as you’ve got nothing to lose. I asked if it was OK to record people while they spoke, and then I took those recordings, transcribed them, took out the bits I felt were most important to include and then started to glue everything together.”
The play is set in a fictional sauna called Flex. Could you talk about why LGBTQ+ homeless people might take refuge in a sauna?
“A good example would be Denholm Spurr, one of the lead actors in the show and one of the contributing factors that led me to make the show. I read an interview with him on Buzzfeed where he talked about his lived experience of being homeless. He started going to the sauna now and again before discovering that Monday nights were free. Fresh out of university and discovering who he was a gay man, this was simply somewhere for him to go and have shelter for a night. It’s definitely not a safe option. There are issues around consent and drugs, but it is a space where people feel safe in their sexuality. Most people would prefer to stay in a sauna than on the street at the risk of receiving homophobic abuse. So they are used by LGBTQ+ people in that way out of necessity. A place where people discovering who they are and feeling safe in that way can go, but it’s certainly not a solution to the problem.”
Homelessness can sometimes feel like a taboo subject or something that many of us try to ignore in society can’t it? How can we change that and get more people talking about it and addressing the issue?
“It really comes down to the fact that people aren’t telling their stories and therefore people don’t know. As a society we group homeless people into one category, we don’t think about the intersectionality. The things that make up who we are as people; our identity, our personality, our journey. When you think of a homeless person, you probably think of someone rough sleeping on the street with a Starbucks cup or a cardboard sign. Maybe someone coming onto the tube asking for some change. I feel like a lot of people care about homelessness, or at least are starting to, which is great. But people’s definitions are a little wrong. It’s not just about rough sleeping. There are so many different forms of homelessness and I think not knowing what the right thing to say and do is can lead people to feel uncomfortable about discussing it at all. I wanted to shine a light on the hidden aspect of this messed up housing situation and let people into a different aspect of the LGBTQI+ narrative, which more often than not is glamourised, and used real people and real stories to do that. Sharing stories, and doing it through art to me feels like a good step forward.”
What role can the LGBTQ+ community take in supporting those experiencing homelessness?
“I think the most valuable thing at the moment is when you are in LGBTQI+ spaces, be mindful and have conversations with people. You might be surprised just how many people have been in similar situations. You can donate money to LGBTQI+ shelters, like The Outside Project, to help them provide more housing. You can write a letter to your local council. You can see No Sweat, bring a friend or pay it forward for a ticket for someone who might not be able to afford to see the show. Come to one of our post-show events to hear more about the LGBTQI+ homelessness crisis. Tell family and friends about it or tell them to come and see the show, get educated. There are organisations doing great work across the UK too, not just in London. And try and remember, things are not always as they seem. If you think you might know from people at risk, talk to them and offer support.”
The homeless crisis has exploded in recent years. What’s your call to action for those in power and what would you like people to think about after they’ve watched the play?
“I would love people to come away from the play continuing the conversation about LGBTQ+ homelessness and wanting to take action to help stop other young people going down the same route. But, there is only so much we can do. There is a much wider and important truth to homelessness in the UK and that is both caused and solved by political action. The rising levels of homelessness are shaped by public policy; choices on housing supply and affordability, welfare spending, eligibility for housing. I ask people in power to come and see the play for themselves, see what’s really happening behind closed doors, and please, listen to our call to arms.”
By Tomas Thornton
No Sweat runs Downstairs at London’s Pleasance Theatre February 4th – 29th 2020 at 8pm (Sundays 6pm, Saturday 22 and 29 3.30pm) Suitable for ages 16+. Tickets £12 – £16 available here .
No Sweat: Pay it Forward. No Sweat has been created in collaboration with members of the LGBTQI+ ex/homeless community and we want these people to see their stories on stage. No Sweat: Pay it Forward asks you to make a donation today so that those living on the margins of society can feel represented and see their stories reflected onstage, meet new people and benefit from the power of theatre. Every £15 donated pays for a ticket for a member of the homeless/ex-homeless community who may otherwise not be able to attend the show. For more information and to donate head to the Crowd Funder page here.