We spoke with Nell Bailey, Artistic Director of November Theatre, a small collective dedicated to making big interdisciplinary theatre forme in New Your City in 2019, but which extends its work to the UK. They’ve performed at various locations in NYC and last year had a sold-out preview run at Pleasance (London) of their first UK show, How to Build a Wax Figure by Isabella Waldron, which premiered at Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2022.
More than a debate over a rainbow armband
November Theatre recognises the importance of providing a platform for those entering the theatre industry and is committed to ensuring 40% of their cast/team are emerging artists, offering experience and training for professionals at the start of their career, no matter their age.
Nell, will you kick-off, so to speak, by telling us about the company's new play, Pitch?
Pitch is a bold, joyful, goal-scoring exploration of the relationship between football and the queer community. In the wake of the controversial Qatar World Cup and in the midst of the 2023 Women's Tournament, we’re offering up a blend of theatre and documentary storytelling whilst asking what it means to watch, play and love the world’s most popular sport.
November Theatre is a female and trans-led company and Pitch was written and devised by the members. Can you explain how that process worked?
Pitch developed from interviews with LGBTQIA+ fans and players from across the UK, It was inspired by the joy of watching football in queer communities, a hunger to start playing again, and a curiosity about the community that football fosters amongst queer people; from watching the women’s Euros with a group of queer mates, to matching with babes in footie kits on dating apps alongside endless kickabouts and pints with LGBT+ teams, For some people we interviewed, past and present, football has been integral to finding joy in their lives and ultimately integral to their survival. We want you to know that it could become that for you too, queer or not. So, importantly, Pitch has been shaped by real people’s experiences of what it means to be queer and love the beautiful game.
What will we see as the outcomes of that?
The version of Pitch that everyone will get to see at Fringe is a beginning. It’s the culmination of a year of in-depth research and talking, playing and watching a lot of footie. It’s built from just four weeks of practically reflecting on and reshaping that research with a group of hugely talented and generous artists who all share a lived experience of queerness and football. We’ve focused on finding a story that investigates multiple queer relationships to footie through the eyes of a grassroots team, and holds the complexity of a queer relationship to the sport whilst still feeling personal to us and hopefully you too.
What was the aim in constructing Pitch?
We always wanted the show to be more than a debate over a rainbow armband or a lecture on the past. Touching on the legacy of Lily Parr and the Dick Kerr Ladies, Justin Fashnu and the Lionesses, Pitch pays homage to the vast and complex history of queer relations to football through the eyes of our current day five-a-side team. Our kit, inspired by the many grassroots teams of East London, features player numbers that help us understand the bigger picture of homophobia and transphobia in football, and in the wider context in the UK.
So how has that been translated into reality?
The result is a show that has a narrative heart, and has grown out of queer theatre traditions in the form of drag, lip sync, and stylistic disruption. Pitch is in many ways a celebration, a big gay party and a brightly coloured collage that talks about the importance of having a place to come together, without pressure, to play and feel seen, even if it’s a soggy patch of grass in the rain on a Sunday afternoon.
You are also providing a practical experience connected to the production while you’re in Edinburgh.
Yes. It’s also important to us that the community we’re talking about extends beyond the stage which is why, during Edinburgh Fringe, we’ll be on the Meadows at 5pm on Sundays (6th, 13th, 20th and 27th) for a kickabout for anyone who wants to join, but especially for the queer community. If you’ve never played football before or you’ve been playing for years, we’d love to see you.