Playwright James Ley received the LGBT History Month Scotland’s Cultural Commissions Award to support him in working on a new play exploring Edinburgh’s LGBT history.
The announcement comes, just a head of this Saturday’s Pride Edinburgh festival and parade.
Ley will spend the year working on a new play which will be performed during LGBT History Month in February 2016.
The play will tell the real-life story of LGBT innovators Bob Orr and American-born writer Sigrid Nielsen, who began their careers selling books from the cloakroom of Fire Island nightclub on Princes Street, Edinburgh, now the site of the city’s flagship Waterstones.
By 1982, Bob and Sigrid had made enough money to secure a bank loan, opening Scotland’s first LGBT bookshop, Lavender Menace, in a basement just off Broughton Street. In 1987, the groundbreaking bookshop migrated to Dundas Street, changing its name to West & Wilde to honour LGBT writers Vita Sackville West and Oscar Wilde.
With a street-level window displaying the cream of LGBT literature to passing New Towners, the bookshop became a valuable social space for Edinburgh’s LGBT community and attracted visitors from all over the world before its closure in 1997.
West & Wilde also became a venue for performances of adaptations of some of the books, and James hopes to bring these adaptations back to life in his own play.
‘I recently met with Bob and his partner Ray who generously shared Bob’s story with me. I want to take the audience back to the atmosphere of this intriguing and magical bookshop that was so important to the LGBT community and to the Edinburgh community as a whole for more than a decade,’ said James.
He continued: ‘I want to explore what we’ve lost in the last two decades, what we’ve gained and what’s stayed the same. I’m fascinated that there was a gay club on Princes Street that was in-your-face, provocative and counter-cultural, as I question whether that could exist now in a more corporate, buttoned-up city.’
Fergus McMillan, Chief Executive of LGBT Youth Scotland, who coordinates LGBT History Month Scotland, said: “We’re really excited by James’s proposal. His Commission will be the first theatre piece we have had and will capture an important and unexplored part of Scotland’s LGBT history for posterity.”
Fergus continued, “Securing the Cultural Commissions Award is a significant achievement. The standard of applications is very high and we had more submissions than ever before this year. We were really heartened by the number of artists seeking to make quality art on the theme of LGBT history and equality, and choosing between so many exciting, innovative projects was very difficult.”
Funded by Creative Scotland, the Cultural Commissions Award will compliment a vibrant programme of events taking place all over Scotland in February 2016 celebrating LGBT History Month and marking the significant contribution lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people have made throughout history.