We Raise Our Hands in the Sanctuary is a play about trying to belong and accept yourself amongst an onslaught of racism and homophobia.
Although fictitious, the play is ‘very much rooted in research’ and explores the underground gay scene in 1980s London.
It explores what it was like growing up LGBTI as well as being black – combining dance, drama and the club sounds of the 1980s.
Following the story of two best friends as they journey towards underground club fame, it tells an important narrative of creating your own LGBTI family.
The play also highlights rampant racism and homophobia during the start of the crippling AIDS crisis.
We talk to Daniel Fulvio and Martin Moriarty, who co-wrote and directed the show.
How did the show come about and what inspired you to tell this story?
Martin: Two things inspired us.
Looking back, the contribution gay club culture has made both to our own community and the wider world.
Especially the DJs who have helped us find communal liberation on the dance floor – black gay pioneers like Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levan in the US, and clubs closer to home like The Lift and Queer Nation.
In the present, the erasure of queer spaces through the hyper-gentrification of the property market.
Regardless of app culture, we all need inclusive clubs, pubs and cafés where we can meet, connect and experience our collective power.
Why do you think this is an important story to tell?
Daniel: We Raise Our Hands In The Sanctuary is fiction, but very much rooted in research about the underground gay scene in the 1980s.
We have had brilliant help with the details from Jeffrey Hinton (Taboo, Queer Nation), Steve Swindells (The Lift, Jungle, BAD) and the members of Opening Doors London.
We think it’s important because this is a period that’s not very well documented, but deserves much wider recognition.
In a very hostile world (racism, homophobia, extreme HIV/AIDS prejudice), LGBT people still found and made spaces to celebrate their survival.
Any challenges during the rehearsal process?
Martin: It’s a piece that integrates actors, dancers and music to tell its story on an abstract set of interlocking platforms all at different heights – so yes, that made for many challenges!
But finding ways of overcoming obstacles is what makes a good rehearsal and we hope it all comes together to produce a compelling show.
What’s one main message you’d like people to get out of the play?
Daniel: Queer spaces can be difficult to navigate: they bring up all sorts of old and new feelings along the axis of acceptance and rejection.
But they play a vital role for a community that still needs places where we can make connections of all kinds with people who ‘get’ us.
Whether that’s sex, romance, friendship, business or collective ecstatic celebration!
The play highlights the widespread effects of the AIDS crisis, why was it important to tell this narrative?
Martin: For me, it was listening to someone who was out on the scene when AIDS first hit our community.
Before anyone even knew what it was, let alone that it was caused by HIV, it was an era where homophobia was routine and mainstream.
Also, witnessing the effort they still have to make to control their feelings of loss.
What specific struggles did BME LGBTI people face in the days when the play was set?
Daniel: Ted Brown, who joined the Gay Liberation Front in 1970 and led the 1990s campaign against Buju Banton’s anti-gay hit Boom Bye Bye (which called for execution-style killings of LGBT people) talked to us in detail about some of the struggles he faced back in the day as a black gay man.
Guys into him for what he kindly calls ‘dubious reasons’; guys whose patronizing liberal ‘sympathy’ was as painful as the openly hostile haters; or gay skinheads threatening him in gay pubs.
And of course he was beaten up in his own home by attackers who couldn’t cope with him standing up against so-called ‘murder music’.
We live in a different era now, but look at the recent GMFA survey about racism on the LGBT scene: this is very much unfinished business.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Martin: We Raise Our Hands In The Sanctuary is a joyful show.
It deals with serious issues, for sure, but it always returns to the delight of dancing together, with friends or lovers or both, to music that moves us all.
People can be heard leaving the Albany after every performance discussing when they’re next going out clubbing.
That is our ideal review.
We Raise Our Hands In The Sanctuary is currently on at the Albany.
Check out the event calendar for a full list of events over LGBT History Month.