University of Sussex Students' Newspaper

Personal Experiences at the Forefront of Performance: An Interview with Ray Young

Sophie Martin

BySophie Martin

Apr 16, 2024

This month I had the opportunity to speak to Ray Young, the creative director of OUT. Ray told me how the performance began as an experiment, and we didn’t expect that it would take off in the way it did, but when it did it was a happy accident.” After hearing Young speak thoughtfully and insightfully about the project, it is easy to see why it has achieved success. In its creation, Young expressed how “the work was not trying to make a social contribution or impact, but as interest in the work grew we realized that it is something that was of interest to other people.”  

I enjoyed speaking with Young about the different themes in the piece and how they still hold relevance and impact today. One of the central themes explored in the performance is homophobia and transphobia. Despite being created in 2016, Young told me how “the work is still relevant today.” They spoke about how the current political climate has been a challenge: “We have to think about how to create this work safely for the performers involved when we have a government that is very hostile and doing things that feel deliberate to prevent LGBTQ+ communities access to healthcare and make choices about their own gender expression. We know it is a sensitive time to do the work but we want to do the work because it is important.”

The development of this project was based heavily on the creator’s own experiences since “being part of those identities is the way the work is built.” Using their own experiences has been a central theme across Young’s work to create conversations:“I’m often making work from the viewpoint of how I see the world and then having conversations with people who experience the world in the same way or different from me and using those conversations to understand why I want to make this work.” 

Young shared how they hoped OUT would affect the audience watching the performance, “sometimes people feel like it opens a door to them and the things they were feeling and when they see themselves in the work it is powerful, but it is also powerful in the other way when people don’t see themselves in the work and the way it makes them feel because they are often people who are often always seen and may feel affronted when they are not. They are both powerful and useful.” The autobiographical element is also evolving. Young is now stepping back from performing in the work as it “becomes generational” with new performers, stating “Now that Bambi and Azara are performing in the work I think it will change slightly because of their own experiences”. 

I asked Young about the challenges that come with using  personal experiences and how they navigated authenticity and vulnerability when creating such personal work. “When you come from a marginalized community there is an appetite for work that feels like it is re-traumatising, so there is a safety and care that needs to sit around the work.,” Ray told me, “I only ever perform what I feel like I am willing to…If people do not feel represented in the work they may feel obliged to speak unkindly about the work, so that’s something you need to be aware of and protect yourself from”. 

The vulnerability and bravery in creating such a personal piece of work is what makes OUT so powerful at creating conversation around its themes of race, gender, colonialism and political discourse. OUT will be performed on campus at ACCA on 19 April if you wish to see it for yourself.

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