Burnley Youth Theatre’s LGBT group is a canopy of warmth shielding its members from judgement.
After the Rain, created by Oliver Daley and Karen Metcalfe, offers a safe place for youngsters to explore and raise awareness of LGBT issues.
“Five years ago, I don’t feel there could have been a group like this,” said Ollie. “But when I came back after university, it felt different. There was a gap, a need for the group, not just at BYT but also in Burnley.”
“We want everyone to feel welcome here,” Karen added.
“As teachers we’re out of our comfort zones so we’re doing courses and getting experts in to deal with LGBT issues because we don’t know how to have those conversations. It’s a journey for this organisation and it’s our duty to take it with our members.”
This cultural mutism is rife in schools. It’s why the group toured an original play and workshop around schools in Burnley and Pendle, providing the tools and vocabulary to discuss such issues.
In the show, light is thrown like confetti on the spectrum of gender identity and sexual orientation, celebrating the fluidity and diversity colouring human experience.
“I was worried I’d put the LGBT community in a pen,” said Ollie, “but we’re here to help people learn.”
The team needn’t have worried: these youngsters don’t see their identities as defined entirely by their gender or sexuality and their diverse theatre activities reflect that.
“Schools aren’t moving with the times,” Ollie added. “Gender and sexuality exists on a scale and you have to let people find themselves on it.”
“You don’t have to be at a definite point on the scale,” said Karen. “People evolve.”
Members told of their struggles - of teachers disregarding their gender identity, for example - and their hopes for schools to create After the Rain groups. Some have even been bullied, behaviour their schools fail to handle.
“Some of us go to school together,” said one, “but it’s hard if you don’t.”
“Most of my friends are LGBT,” said another, “but not everyone gets it.”
A third agreed: “I would have liked to have had the group at age 12 or 13. At least I would have known there were other LGBT people.”
Unfortunately, as a fourth said: “Teachers aren’t telling people off for homophobic comments.”
The aim, then, is to build on the first season’s success of bringing greater understanding to members’ families.
And while an umbrella was the show’s defining metaphor, it is the image of a gazebo which springs to mind, since the group accommodates various people united in celebration.
“[After all] the group is not just for LGBT,” said Karen, “but for all people who believe in equality.”
After the Rain is for ages 11 to 18 (up to 25 for those with learning difficulties) and meets every Thursday during the season.
For more details visit www.burnleyyouththeatre.org