We are all used to the idea of coming out of the closet. But in my new musical, Closets, two teens step into a closet to time-travel in LGBTI history.
My original short film, Closets, is about two gay teenagers, one living in 1986 and the other in 2016. Both have the same bedroom and their wardrobe is a portal between the two periods, so they can meet.
How Closets came into being
I had made my first LGBTI feature films aged 20 to 27. I financed them mainly by credit cards with fingers crossed, and often met with mixed results.
But when it came to Closets, I decided I wanted to make something more focused smaller and with a budget.
My early LGBTI films were my training ground. I learnt so much from just going out there and making films without restrictions, guerilla style. It was fun to work with a similarly-minded crew, as well as my creative partner Neil Ely.
The skills I developed making these films contributed to the success of Closets, helping it become an award-winner, and subsequent projects since.
I wanted to tell the kind of story I needed when I was growing up
Closets was the fulfilment of another ambition – to create an LGBTI film aimed at younger audiences. Essentially, I wanted to tell a story that I would have wanted to see when I was growing up.
With Love, Simon just released this month into mainstream cinemas, it’s evident that times are changing. Now LGBTI youth accessible films are finally being released. But back in 2015 most LGBTI films were certificate 15 and above, most leaning towards 18.
So, when I started to create it, I thought about how I felt growing up in the closet as a teenager. In particular, what would have happened if I’d met someone going through the same thing? Would I have come out sooner? Would I have felt less alone?
I then got to thinking about what it was like for different generations of lesbian, gay and bi kids. What if two different decades crossed paths?
That’s when the sci-fi element emerged. I brought together two teenagers, Henry and Ben from different time zones together via a magical, time-travelling closet.
The two boys at the end of the short come out to their parents. That gave us the opportunity to contrast the sequences from 1986 to 2016. We could show how attitudes have changed and still how far we have to go, in regards to people’s views on LGBTIs today.
One of the hardest things about LGBTI filmmaking is finding funding. Producer Marilyn Davidson and I managed to raise the money independently, making sure everyone was paid and that we would have a great looking film.
In the end, we made the short quite quickly. I wrote the film in January 2015 and by April, we had shot and edited it. We managed to attract a great cast including Julie Hesmondhalgh and Ceallach Spellman.
Now schools across England and Wales show the film
I entered the film into lots of festivals and I was lucky enough to be the winner of the Best of British category and Youth Award in 2015 at the Iris Prize, a leading LGBTI short film festival.
Since then, schools across England and Wales have shown the film so it is reaching young people, which was always my dream with the project.
I then started thinking about how I could expand the project. As it happens, I’d been thinking about making a musical for some years. In fact, I already had 5 songs already written which fit into Closets: The Musical very neatly.
So I then contacted my creative partner, Neil Ely, who is also an Iris Prize Best of British runner-up, and we decided to work together to adapt Closets into a stage musical. We already have plans to make it into a musical feature film next year.
Henry and Ben time travel together through LGBTI history
We’ve expanded the musical’s plot to include LGBTI history throughout the decades. The two young boys, Henry and Ben, time travel in the closet together while they think about coming out to their parents.
We’ve included events such as The Stonewall Riots of 1969 which we’ve researched and taken great care whilst writing, to ensure we get these moments right. There’s a lot of pressure when telling stories involving people’s history to get it right.
The show has 12 original songs with lyrics by Neil Ely and myself. We have a fantastic composer Ashley MA Walsh who has had to deal with us screaming for pop music chords when writing the songs!
We wanted to create a musical that has memorable catchy songs from across the decades. So we have influences from 1980s, like Madness and Madonna, to the 90s, Oasis, all the way up to Adele and more for the present day. It’s a time-travel musical in every sense of the word, the music time travels with the story.
Neil and I have cast a talented group of actors to bring our story to life. They include Lloyd Daniels (X Factor, Joseph), Natasha Hamilton (Atomic Kitten), Sam Retford (Ackley Bridge) and Kim Tatum (Cold Feet, EastEnders). Lloyd and Sam have been helping us workshop the piece prior to rehearsals and there is already a family feel to the production, which is brilliant.
Why a musical?
A lot of people have asked ‘why turn a successful short film into a musical?’
Well, when I was growing up there wasn’t a musical about coming out and about the plight of LGBTI youth. So I’m putting one on now, telling a story I’m passionate about.
I love sci-fi and musicals, so for me this is a bit of dream project. I also hope the piece will help young people struggling with coming out or being bullied, to let them know they are not alone and there is help and support in the community.
We are having some schools and LGBTI youth groups come to watch the show. And the show is being recorded and shown at Home Cinema Manchester to 300 LGBTQ youth members as part of Rainbow Playground via The Proud Trust. Getting it in front of audiences like that is really important to me, as I feel they will really engage with the piece.
The musical also has themes that everyone will be able to relate to, we cover issues such as bullying, cyber bullying, coming out, coming of age in the 80s and present day, relationships with parents and LGBTI history.
Over the two hour show, there are 12 songs and I think we genuinely have something in there for everyone’s tastes.
To celebrate Digital Pride this week, we’re giving you a sneak peak. This is a first look at the song, Beyond the Universe. It’s a love ballad Henry and Ben sing to one another before returning to their time zones:
Get tickets for Closets – The Musical
Closets – The Musical is at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester, England from 14 to 23 August. Tickets are on sale now.