Talya Stitcher regretted not getting involved in the queer community while studying in Leeds, so when she moved to Sheffield she threw herself in the deep end. She wanted to create a regular event where queer artists are encouraged to perform in a space that is going to accept and promote them.
Stitcher and her co-producer Tommi Bryson formed Sounds Queer, with its first show taking place in the Cellar Theatre in March 2019. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t gate-keeping on ability or ‘how queer’ someone is. If you are queer or questioning in any kind of way then you can feature,” she tells me as we sit down for a chat at Interval. What follows is a candid conversation on everything from armpit hair to emotional performances.
How has writing poetry helped you work through personal issues?
I wrote a poem about my armpit hair. It is supposed to be a bit funny and about accepting it as a part of me and realising it didn’t matter what other people thought about it because I really liked it. I have also found that a lot of the time when I write I don’t use pronouns at all. If I’m writing about a love interest, I tend to go completely neutral. These are things that have started appearing in my writing since becoming more comfortable with my sexuality.
Which queer artists or artists addressing LGBT+ issues inspire you?
Travis Alabanza and Alok Vaid-Menon. They care so much about what they are doing and saying whilst being so unapologetic on social media and in their work. They wrote a show called Burgerz, about how someone threw a burger at them in the street and shouted offensive slurs at them. They took that one moment and wrote an entire show about what makes up a burger and what makes up a person, and why we do these things to each other. They are truly inspirational because having someone visible is really important, and they are very visible. They would be my ultimate headliners.
What was the purpose of creating Sounds Queer?
Our aim is to help rising performers and grow a community, to give queer voices a platform and a safe space to be themselves and express themselves. A space where regardless of how you identify or your own personal situation, people understand you – at least on some level, where the rest of society might not. At its core it is trying to grow a community of people from anywhere. Obviously, student societies are for students but I wanted to make it for anyone. I want people from all ages, even the fresh baby-faced queers.
What topics are often covered in your shows?
Nothing is off the table. We have had all sorts come up. I think that’s a tough question because a lot of the performances aren’t actually about queer content necessarily. The performers just happen to be queer. A lot of people will say to me that they don’t have queer material and that is perfectly fine. You don’t have to talk about being queer just because you are. That is not entirely who you are, it is just a part of you. For some people it’s really not a big deal. For me it is because it has taken over my life, and I am so in love with being queer and involved in the queer community and doing work for it.
Are there any performers that have stuck with you?
One person who performed at the open-mic was shy and nervous and then they sang acapella, and their voice was so beautiful. I felt everyone lean forward in their seats. They kept coming back and doing the open mic. At the last event we had, before they sang they made this little announcement, to say thank you to us for creating a space where they felt safe, loved and accepted, because some people in their life didn’t know about how they identify. They felt safe to be all their authentic self and I honestly nearly cried, because that meant so much to me.
How can people get involved?
Anyone can attend and anyone can do the open-mic, with featured spots reserved for those who are queer or questioning. It is literally any kind of art form imaginable welcome. People can like our Facebook page and our Instagram (@soundsqueer.sheffield) to follow the postings of our events. If people want to perform, open-mic is just sign up on the night or you can email in advance (firstname.lastname@example.org) to express your interest.