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Guest Blog: Michelle Barnette On Tennessee Williams' SOUTHERN BELLES

Guest Blog: Michelle Barnette On Tennessee Williams' SOUTHERN BELLES
Michelle Barnette

My first encounter with Southern Belles - two one-act plays by Tennessee Williams - was actually over a year ago. I wasn't yet working at the King's Head Theatre. Jamie Armitage, the director - and also the director of the smash-hit SIX - and I were working together at another venue and he was telling me about this pretty special play he found, And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens.

The play had never been performed in Williams' lifetime due to its openly gay characters, which only added to its appeal - how do you honour the history of a play that had largely been rejected? He needed a producer to help him get it off its feet. I was freelancing and said I wanted in; and then the King's Head took it on in-house.

So I became the producer of the King's Head Theatre.

Well, that's not exactly how that went. At the time, I had no intention of stopping my freelancing to go in-house, and I certainly never imagined that I would get the opportunity to work so intimately with these gorgeous Williams plays - I promised Jamie I would just book tickets the moment they went live. But life has a funny way of working out.

Just a few months later, I found myself knee-deep in budgets and contracts for Southern Belles - which is what the show has ended up being called once Jamie paired And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens with Something Unspoken - working alongside a brilliant team at the King's Head Theatre, taken on as their in-house producer. Funnily enough, for a producer who loves revivals of classic texts, these two one-acts are my first revivals.

Tennessee Williams and his contemporaries captured something remarkable in their writing - they had an unparalleled attention to detail, an inherent understanding of subtext, the deep understanding for the fundamental human need for connection and inclusivity.

Thornton Wilder wrote in Our Town that "People are meant to go through life two by two. 'Tain't natural to be lonesome." We may question some of that now - two by two may not be everyone's preferred method - but the sentiment is one that almost everyone can relate to. I think that's what I love so much about Williams' work - he just understands. He writes human loneliness and compassion better than just about anyone.

Guest Blog: Michelle Barnette On Tennessee Williams' SOUTHERN BELLES
Southern Belles at King's Head Theatre

These are the plays I grew up on. I spent many years of my childhood in Georgia and half of my family still lives there. Williams was one of the first playwrights I remember encountering. His words aren't just beautiful or haunting, they stay with you like a cat scratch that never quite healed over - just leaving that glistening silver line on the flesh. It doesn't surprise me for a moment that his work still to this day enjoys huge success.

I've learnt a lot about the King's Head Theatre's ethos in my first few months working here. The King's Head has this amazingly loyal, devoted audience who come to see their stories told on stage, and have been doing so for decades. When our audiences were surveyed, 96.7% of participants said that the King's Head Theatre was vital for the local LGBTQIA+ community.

In our venue, our audiences can celebrate Pride all year around. When Pride month comes to a close in London, we spend another nine weeks every year celebrating Queer stories in our Queer Season. This year, there are 11 shows that celebrate all kind of narratives, from famous writers like Tennessee Williams as well as brand-new talent, sharing stories for the very first time.

There's two women falling in love during the London Blitz in WWII, drag queens in New Orleans fighting against the status quo, a story of homophobia in the Premier League, and a bisexual love triangle that comes to a head on a wedding night.

Each year, the King's Head Theatre challenges itself to be more inclusive and more representative. It's an ongoing and evolving process and we can always push to do better, but we're very proud to be a home for and champion of the incredible voices that come through our doors.

Southern Belles is at King's Head Theatre 24 July-24 August

Photo credit: Hannah Ellison


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