Well, the first two fundraisers are done, and now it’s time for some reflection. Firstly – thank you, to everyone who performed, who worked the doors, who did the tech, who promoted the events in any way, and who came along and spent their time and money with us!
In this post I’m going to talk about what made these events into the beautiful and brilliant nights that they were. I’m also going to talk about what went wrong, and why. Ensuring that events organised by The Cutlery Drawer are the best they can possibly be – which includes making them into spaces which are as safe and accessible as possible – means being transparent about the problems there were, and how they’re going to be addressed in the future. I’ve organised events before, but not of this nature, so this is a learning experience for me. I’m very lucky to have the support of more experienced people, but I also recognise I’m going to make rookie mistakes – and then learn from fixing them!
Moulin Rage was a wonderful night. It meant a lot to me for reasons I’ll go into elsewhere, but far more importantly, the performers were all fantastic. The Mechanisms – playing for the first time without their creator-nemesis Doctor Carmilla – were utterly compelling, weaving the gig into their ongoing plot as a rag-tag spaceship crew and singing us stories from the dark world of sci-fi and fairytales that they inhabit. Powerful, gripping, and at times humorous, their uniquely twisted brand of space-folk ran the gamut between pathos and fury and at one point had audience members up dancing and stamping. They were also kind enough to lend us their stylish hats to take donations during one of the breaks, when it became clear that we hadn’t been brought the collection tins for Rape Crisis South London. CN Lester was a dream come true – as I said on the night, listening to CN play a set is like being hypnotised by an angel. An angel who is very sad and very clever. The music was incredible, comprising tracks from the upcoming album Ashes and covers of “Lilac Wine” and “I’m Your Man”. They also charmed the socks off everyone in between songs.
Bunny Morethan was an engaging solo act, who wrought mischief among the audience with a series of participatory numbers – the feminist true-or-false game, working Mechanisms frontman Jonny into one of her songs, and memorably encouraging two male audience members to share an embrace onstage, after discussing how constructs of masculinity often stop men feeling able to connect with each other. She also treated us to some excellent songs, including an ironic tribute to pinup girls. And finally: the legendary Lashings of Ginger Beer Time. Everyone’s favourite radical-queer-feminist burlesque collective were exquisite as usual, bringing us some of their classic numbers such as the lesbian version of ‘Love Story’ and the *cough* reimagined Hakuna Matata, as well as newer pieces such as ‘Two Butches’ (a rewrite of Cabaret‘s ‘Two Ladies’ depicting a butch/butch/femme poly relationship) and a hilarious yet unsettling sketch about the way Facebook advertisements target women’s insecurities. DJing at the beginning and during the breaks was Ruth Pearce, whose top-notch setlist can be viewed by clicking here.
So, that’s all fantastic. Now – the problems and challenges.
The biggest problem with Moulin Rage was venue accessibility. The Dogstar was in many ways a fantastic venue – the aesthetic was gorgeous, the capacity was great, and we were able to book it very soon before the gig after a series of set-backs with dates and venues. But although Internet sources said that the venue was accessible, it turned out that the Ballroom area where Moulin Rage was actually held was not. Up a set of narrow stairs with no ramp, this accessibility-fail prevented some people from coming. Venue staff told us that some people in wheelchairs had been carried up there before with no problems – but it’s not a fair thing to expect people to be comfortable with. Lesson learned: check venue accessibility in person, which we did with the venue for Political: A Gender.
There was also a problem of crossed wires regarding whether or not there was meant to be an extra performer who wasn’t listed on the billing – it’s a long story, and not especially appropriate for this blog entry, but it’s not a problem likely to be repeated. It did, however, help inform my decisions about whether or not to accept last-minute extra acts for Political: A Gender – more on that later.
We also overran by about half an hour, even with just the four billed acts – luckily, the venue staff were amazing and didn’t throw us out before Lashings finished! This was mostly due to initially only allowing half an hour between doors and the start of performances, then realising that it would actually take longer to get a good number of people through the door. Lesson learned: leave more time before the first act so the audience can get in and relax!
Political: A Gender was a lot more ambitious – and that ambition ultimately paid off. Getting the legendary Royal Vauxhall Tavern was a triumph in itself – both because of its improved accessibility and security, and its high-profile status for queer nights. It also went up from four sets to eleven, or even more if you count Ruth Pearce’s DJing, the introductory speech from Gendered Intelligence’s Finn Greig, and my own compering between the acts! I’m not going to go into detail about all the performances here, because this time there are actual reviews up – one at Sabotage Reviews, one at Trans Youth Takes On World, and (so I’m told) more on the way. You can also check out the DJ setlist and running order at Ruth’s site here.
One of the best things I keep hearing about Political: A Gender, though, was the way it created a safe space. Two stand-out quotes:
I was brilliantly entertained and I’ve never felt more comfortable in my own skin. And it bolstered my courage in coming out to my mum. It’s one of the very few places where it didn’t matter how I self-identified, because I was me and that was OK. One of the happiest events I’ve ever been to.
As someone who tends to feel uncomfortable in both normative and queer spaces, I didn’t at all. It was a really lovely space.
It also felt truly diverse – although the vast majority of the acts were trans, there were also cis people who felt they transgressed gender in various ways. It felt to me like a real community celebration, but it also felt accessible to people who weren’t trans or queer – I say this last bit on the evidence of some of my friends in the audience, who were having a raging good time despite being cis straight vanilla guys.
On the note of safe space, one extra feature of the night was that the tables were scattered with copies of an A4 sheet known as the “personal luggage label” (click the title in that blog post for a PDF!) and made by the lovely Emily Monaghan (strongly influenced by Kreativekorp’s “Yay Genderform!” and Kate Bornstein’s “My Gender Workbook”). Emily initially made it for someone on Swap-Bot, but said we could print it for P:AG! There was a plan to ask people to fill them in and then (if they felt comfortable with doing so) stick them up around the venue. This plan was abandoned when I couldn’t find the blu-tack I’d brought, but people still seemed to have fun with them, and quite a few left them behind afterwards. I’d like to think they added to the atmosphere of gender-freedom and safe-space. One thing worried me, though – at the start of the section labelled “(Gender?) Identity”, there’s a bit which reads: “I am: (colour); I could be: (colour); I could never be: (strikethrough)”. This was intended as a suggestion for colour-coding responses – i.e. tick things you are with one colour, tick things you could be with another colour, strikethrough things you could never be. Some of the responses interpreted this as favourite colours; others seemed to interpret this as race. I feel very uncomfortable with the latter – while the luggage label included identities held predominantly by racially marginalised people, like Two-Spirit and SGL, it does not directly address race, and certainly wouldn’t have done so just using “colour”. I sincerely hope that the racial interpretation didn’t impact on anyone’s enjoyment of the evening – if it did, please accept unreserved apologies. Lesson learned: if using the luggage label again, provide an example to show how the colour-coding is meant to work.
Despite the very ambitious scope of the night, everything stayed perfectly to time, even running early at the beginning! Timetabling it was a real challenge, and it still wasn’t perfect (more on that shortly). With Moulin Rage, I knew precisely which acts I wanted and the issue was getting everyone together on the same date and finding a venue. With this one, the date and venue came first – I was determined to get the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, and September 1st was the nearest date available at the time of booking – and so I sent off invitations to a lot of people who I thought would be awesome onstage. Shockingly, most of them said yes. Fantastic! A chance to have an event stuffed with a massive range of queer voices! Only it’s never quite that simple – with all the different time restrictions various acts had, it was quite the task fitting in everyone with their desired set-length at a time they could do, while still scheduling in enough intervals to keep things running at a reasonably chilled pace.
However, the ambitious scope of P:AG created issues of access. It was a deliberate decision to have so many acts, to make it as much as possible about celebrating diversity of voices; it was a deliberate decision to keep it running late (acts finished at 1:30am, leaving a half-hour buffer for winding down) so there was more time for people to enjoy themselves. But this was problematic for people who had come to see specific acts but were unable to stay for them; it was also problematic in that anyone wanting to see the whole event would need to stay until long after the last tube had left and then navigate the London night buses. This was compounded by it being on a weeknight. Both Cutlery Drawer events have been weeknights so far – primarily due to venues being more expensive or just already booked on weekends – but if we’re going to stay up late, then things like transport and normal working hours should be taken into consideration. I’m not sure what the best resolution would have been: on the one hand, I think most people who stayed for the entire night had a great time; on the other, a lot of people did have to go home early, and thus miss a proportion of the acts. Is it most important to put on a night of epic proportions, or make sure that as many people as possible can see as much of it as possible? One person suggested having a two-day thing, festival-style, spreading the acts over two evenings. That would be fantastic, albeit even more ambitious. I did also consider posting up copies of the schedule around the venue – but I was advised by two more experienced people not to do that, so people wouldn’t just nip in for one act and then disappear. Given the level of enthusiasm I observed in the audience, in retrospect I’m not sure how likely that was to have happened – but as a decision based on unknown factors, I hope it was the right one.
I’d really like to hear more feedback from people about the length and organisation of the event – would you have preferred specific timings of each act to be announced? Would you have preferred a shorter night, or were you happy with us having the venue until 2am and running live performances until 1:30am? I suppose one compromise would be the live performances ending early, but with a DJ set continuing until late for those who could stand to stay up. I’d like to keep gathering feedback about this. However, especially given that I’ll soon have a lot less free time, it is very likely that the next event will be shorter and more manageable.
And that’s my round-up of our first two events. Feel free to add your own comments and feedback, either on here or via email.
Where next for the Cutlery Drawer? I’m moving to Brighton for postgraduate studies, so it’s quite likely that the next event will be in that area. That said, I am enthusiastic about continuing to run events in London too – I had already moved out of London by the time Moulin Rage happened, so I already know I can do it remotely. I’d love to put on another show at the RVT – I received a very positive email from their events co-ordinator saying they look forward to working with the Cutlery Drawer again, so that’s great. There are also two semi-Cutlery Drawer events in the works: firstly, there’s been talk of collaborating with Rolling Head Promotions on another rape crisis fundraiser early next year. Secondly, after the success of P:AG, Gendered Intelligence have been in touch asking for help with their end-of-year party and fundraiser.
So that’s that: more events are on the way, and there will definitely be Cutlery Drawer-supported events from December – in the meantime, please keep getting in touch with your feedback, ideas, and offers of getting involved! It’s been great working with so many amazing people to put these fundraisers together, and I’m looking forward to carrying on with it.