7 February 2022
So, we got chatting to Bren Gosling, the writer, Taofique Folarin and Andrei Maniata, the lead actors of the play, to find out more about how their own relationship to queerness has informed their work.
Bren: I was partly driven to write PROUD because I feel strongly that the narratives of many LGBTQ+ individuals are not well represented on the stage, and this is particularly true of people from the global majority. I'm interested in telling stories from a queer perspective, but where this is not necessarily the only focus. So, in Proud I aimed to write an uplifting love story which happens to be about two men and on the way deals with some other major issues of our time: religion, war, forced migration, fatherhood, teenage male identity. Most importantly, I wanted to explore these themes in a way that allows each character to develop and grow towards, rather than away from, the other characters. I very much hope that audiences will resonate with the distinct stories of Roland, Amir, and Gary. Through PROUD, I aim to challenge stereotypical perceptions of racial and sexual identity, to push the boundaries of what it means to love, and finally, to champion our capacity to realise who we are in spite of difficult circumstances.
Taofique: As a queer black man, I am keenly aware of the unfortunate lack of representation and visibility for those like myself. I always get excited about roles that improve the much needed visibility of BME queer people and give voice to their unique and individual experiences, as this one does. Roland’s Jamaican background also resonated with me as it is culturally similar to my own. His heritage adds another critical dimension to how he navigates queer life. As queer people, we all have a journey to go on when it comes to coming out, and not one experience is the same. It excites me to play a role that can expose audiences to different cultures and relationships - by enabling us to deepen our understanding, empathy, and connection with those unlike ourselves, I believe theatre can be a potent tool for change.
Taofique: Religion can be an integral part of one’s identity; I’ve been exploring the theological beliefs and practices of Pentecostalism as they would have been central to Roland’s life growing up. The fear of coming out and retribution resulted in Roland living ‘down low’ for some time. Through research I have been able to come to a more objective understanding of the Pentecostal faith and its community, without imposing judgment. I then looked to my own experience as a gay black man raised in the Christian faith to find some commonalities that have also informed my work.
Through exercises run by our director Marlie Haco, I have explored where Roland might hold tension in his body and how this affects his physicality. For instance, we’ve asked the questions, where does Roland hold his shame and how does this make him move? How much pain did he experience wanting to be straight? Did he pray to be straight? These are some of the questions I will continue to keep answering in order to better understand his relationship with his faith. It is a complex issue that intersects with his race and culture, hindering his journey towards self-acceptance.
We are now mid rehearsals, and I am fortunate and grateful to be working with a marvellous team. Marlie and my fellow actors Andrei Maniata (Amir), Kaine Hatukai (Gary) and I are all working very hard to try and ensure we truthfully portray the lives of the characters and their backgrounds.
Andrei: In the rehearsal room, we’ve looked at the main themes addressed in the play. Together with our director, Marlie Haco, we have explored how Amir lives in constant fear of having his true identity revealed – in Syria, he says, gay men are “toppled from tall buildings”. We’ve discussed how Amir’s internalised homophobia has shaped his personality and how this impacts his relationship with Roland. We have also identified the key emotions explored in the play - fear, anger, grief/loss - and examined moments in which we have experienced those feelings in our own lives, drawing on our personal experiences to help us embody the characters we play on stage. I have found this a really constructive process as I myself have struggled to accept my queerness due to the Orthodox beliefs of my family.
Andrei: I hope that the audience leaves with a greater understanding of the damage caused by war and the limitations of certain religious ideologies. We are representing real-life stories in Proud so I hope they leave the theatre with more empathy for refugees and some of the challenges the gay community has faced. Finally, I would like audiences to leave with a sense of hope that no matter how traumatic our past has been, through connection and relationship, we can heal and forge a better future for ourselves.