V&A Dundee

'How the music felt to us' - taboo performers Q&A

Project participants August (they/them) from LGBT Youth Scotland and Leigh (she/her) from Front Lounge share their experience of co-designing and performing 'taboo' in the Night Fever space.

A film of the taboo performance is currently being screened in the museum, or you can watch the film and hear from hidden route co-directors Gemma and Lisa here.

Two dancers stretch out their hands towards each other, holding LGBTQIA+ flags
The performers explored several theme from club culture, including the LGBTQIA+ origins of disco

How did you get involved in the taboo project?

August - I found out about it from Izzy (Youth and Community Development Officer) at LGBT Youth Scotland, who was in touch with the Learning team at V&A Dundee. I knew hidden route was a drama group, but that was about it really. I was looking for something to do during the summer, because I just kind of had nothing to do, and also to meet new people. And I did make some new friends, which was really nice.

Leigh - Chika (Project Leader) from Front Lounge asked if we wanted to go along. I didn't have much of an idea of what we’d be doing, but I was excited to get back into doing the performance because I haven’t done anything in a few years, and just to have some fun. It was a good distraction, being able to do things again in person rather than us all being online.

Dance group members stand under club lights while rehearsing their routine
The group devised, wrote, rehearsed and performed in the Night Fever exhibition space

Tell us about how you came together as a new group to create this unique performance

August - We worked with Gemma and Lisa from hidden route (performance design), Spencer Mason (sound design), Abbey Adams (movement design) and Syrah Jay (costume design). Everything that we did came from us, so we made all our own clothes for the performance and our own music designs. I made a greeny-silvery feathered cape and we came up with our own dances as well.

We started experimenting with different activities in the studios. In one group we wrote about what it feels like in a music festival. That was where our group got the best response, which kind of indicated to us to do that as part of the performance.

I was quite nervous working with new people, but during the week we all started getting to really know each other and we had fun together.

"All of us were completely different in our own way. Everyone's got a different life story and we were all different ages. We all got on right from the get-go and we were all in it together."

Leigh

Leigh - We all got separated into our own wee groups to do things around the Night Fever exhibition. So we all had a part in something to do with the music, costumes and drama, using different scenarios we were given.

Another good thing is that all of us were completely different in our own way. Everyone's got a different life story and we were all different ages. We all got on right from the get-go and we were all in it together. There were some people who were really nervous about public speaking, but everyone just supported each other.

How did you take over the museum spaces to develop, rehearse and perform taboo?

August - We started when the museum was closed for the day, playing some games in the Learning studio and working on some music. We went around inside and outside the museum recording small sounds we could find, like the sea or someone dropping a stone, anything we liked. Some people sang and some people spoke. That was all put together and we came out with some music.

For some people watching rehearsals it probably looked a bit like a flash mob! I told some of my friends what we were doing and they came to watch the final rehearsal too.

Leigh - It was challenging after the days where the museum was closed and we had it to ourselves, to then open up again and not be scared to perform in front of people, but it was nice because people got to see snippets of the performance and us warming up in the open parts of the museum.

A lot of the public coming in to look at the exhibition ended up getting to see a few dances or got to hear monologue rehearsals. It was quite funny, they just saw us all dancing in a huge room and watched, thinking it was a show, which was quite nice.

A group member wearing a handmade costume and facemask reads a script in the silent disco
Participants created their own costumes, inspired by club culture

What did the final taboo performance look like?

August - Some of the performance was inspired by things inside Night Fever. We noticed there was a small section on LGBT+ history so we were like, we would like to incorporate that because there are some of us who are LGBT+ ourselves.

I think we used nearly every part of the exhibition as best as we could. We were also spread out because we still needed to social distance.

The end of the performance in the final room was very energetic and fun, we all danced around together and it had a lot of energy!

"Everything that we did came from us, so we made all our own clothes for the performance and our own music designs."

August

Leigh - We had a slow movement scene outside at the start, which was quite effective alongside the voiceover work we did. Inside it picked up and in the silent disco we spoke about how the music felt to us.

It was pretty cool because it was quite interactive. We all had our own places in certain galleries. When the audience was there, they walked around to find what we were doing and interact in their own way by being in the performance space. It's so much more effective than watching it on a stage; it’s putting the audience and performers on the same level.

Dancers lie on the floor of Gallery 2 with their arms outstretched towards one another
The performance brought together young people from different groups around Dundee

Why did this experience matter to you and what were some of your highlights?

August - Coming out with more friends. And finding out about hidden route theatre company was a big thing that I got out of the project. I'm a part of that group now and I’m hoping it will boost my confidence a little, that's one thing I want from it. It’s interesting and we're trying to build a performance now, just experimenting with our new place and trying to do something new for spring.

My favourite part of taboo was definitely making the clothes, because we were all just able to sit together and make something, taking our time, chatting and getting to know each other more. The dancing was fun as well. And just being able to experience what V&A Dundee was like, because when we had our breaks we would wander around together, which was really nice.

Leigh - It made me realise how much I actually missed performing. In October I wrote a piece called I am for World Mental Heath Day and it’s the first time I've ever performed something that I wrote myself. Being part of taboo helped because it's made me realise I shouldn't be as scared as I have been and I should write more.

I loved how everyone got along, because that's the thing I was most nervous about. I don't like going into places where I'm not sure if I know people, but it was really nice to meet new people. I still have friends from taboo, we're still in touch so it's brought us together.