Who is the audience for Rent Party Peterborough? / A Story I'd Like to Hear

by Iqra Saeed

Watching Rent Party is such an experience. Every cast member has a different story to share. Each one so different and evoking different emotions. These personal stories shed light on issues which those who are LGBT+ face throughout their lives but others may not be aware of. Some stories are heart-breaking. Others are more light-hearted and may even make you smile. A show like Rent Party existing reflects the need of these stories to be heard and seen.

My attempts to imagine an audience, for every theatre show I see, always result in a particular type of person. An audience who is only or mostly made up of people who are white. However, Peterborough is also home to many other people and communities: Kurdish, Pakistani and Eastern European, to name a few. Yet if my idea of Peterborough was based on Rent Party I would have no knowledge of any of the communities.

Who can you see in the cast?

I am Pakistani and not seeing anyone like myself within the audience is worth noting. From my understanding and experience of the Pakistani culture, there is a strong denial when it comes to queer people.

In London I know many Pakistanis who choose to be visible – although understandably this is not the case for everyone. Of course, London is a much bigger city, therefore it can be easier to be true to one’s identity outside of home. But there is no denying the visibility is much more prominent.

Peterborough being relatively close to London – two hours by car, or one by train – may also play a part in this, as some may think change is not needed when London is fairly accessible. If everyone is going to London, then this means no one is cultivating these things within Peterborough, and a one-hour train journey is a minor sacrifice people in Peterborough are prepared to make.

Perhaps Pakistani people would be in the audience of Rent Party if they could see themselves in the cast. But the cast members chosen for a show also depends on who is willing. The nature of Rent Party means cast members have to be very brave and comfortable with sharing something very personal to them. It is not known who was approached to play a role and well-being has to be prioritised.

Theatre can’t change a whole community’s view

Queer visibility is increasing in larger cities due to the progressive nature of society. Even Pakistani women are taking an increased stand for feminism and against issues such as domestic violence. It would make sense for the LGBTQ+ community to follow suit. Can theatre support this? 

Some may argue that it would be unrealistic to rely on theatre to change a whole community’s view. Especially when that community is already seen as having fallen behind on issues such as women’s rights, domestic violence and forced marriages. Not just by outsiders, but individuals within that community.

Surely, Pakistani representation within Rent Party could potentially work as a catalyst in bringing this community up to speed?

Of course, potential doesn’t guarantee any changes.

The nature of Rent Party also needs to be taken into consideration. The cast speak very openly of their own experiences and share their stories. There is a level of responsibility that comes with giving people a platform to share their experiences. Would a gay Pakistani woman be protected once the show was over? Or could she now be a victim of homophobia within her own community?

Pride – for all?

In my interview with Teddy/Edward Smith, one of the cast members of Rent Party, he talked a lot about his involvement in Pride. I don’t have much of a relationship with Pride because the events tend to be crowded and loud, and environments such as this are not straightforward to navigate when mobility is limited.

Peterborough Pride 2021 was held on Cathedral Square, an area just outside of Queensgate shopping centre, which is Peterborough’s main shopping centre. As part of the event there was an opportunity to take part in a parade through central Peterborough. Pride being a summer event means that the weather is much more pleasant. However, keeping warm is harder for someone whose movement is restricted or cannot regulate temperature due to conditions such as Fibromyalgia (a condition which can be invisible for some).

A map of the parade shows the 10-minute walk beginning at the Key Theatre – which is where Peterborough’s Rent Party was played – and ending at Cathedral Square where performances took place after the parade. The map does not specify if the route is step-free or wheelchair accessible. There is a key on the left of the map which includes symbols of restaurants and toilet facilities. But on the map, the universal disabled symbol appears in a few different places. Not being included on the key leads me to wonder whether it is referring to parking or accessible toilet facilities. Including symbols is simply not enough and this makes it harder to plan and attend. No access details or welcoming of carers or companions adds to a lack of inclusive language.

Where are the disabled people?

Although the message behind the parade carries significance, it overlooks the needs of those for whom getting around or being outdoors is more challenging. Events spreading an inclusive message which some attend only to find out that they cannot be included, could be considered to be defeating the purpose.

Stories of self-discovery were prominent in Rent Party. But the cast for Rent Party did not include anyone who was visibly disabled. If there had been a disabled cast member or an all-disabled cast, the stories could have been very different to the ones presented, and the nature, message, and purpose of the show may have been very different.

Someone who lives with their family and relies on them for day-to-day care can be under pressure to hide who they are. Being disowned or kicked out is traumatic and heart-breaking. But if you aren’t physically able to get to safety, require help to eat or complete personal care tasks it can mean hiding who you are for a lifetime.

As individuals we all are entitled to privacy but what if the level of privacy in your life is reduced due your complex needs. Socialising platonically or romantically can also mean needing help to travel. This means that for many disabled and queer people, socialising of both kinds is limited and for some it is completely out of the question. 

These issues are very similar to the ones addressed by the LGBT+ cast of Rent Party. However, the cast did not include anyone who was visibly disabled – and having this story told from the perspective of a disabled person would have expanded the viewpoint in vital ways.