Writer Dominic Montague on Quartered: Belfast, A Love Story
Following its sell-out run at last year's Outburst Festival in Belfast, the LGBTQ-themed Quartered: Belfast, A Love Story is being revived next week as part of the Imagine Festival of Ideas and Politics. David Roy spoke to writer Dominic Montague about his thought-provoking promenade production
WRITTEN by Kabosh Theatre Co's own project facilitator Dominic Montague and directed by their artistic director, Paula McFettridge, Quartered: Belfast, A Love Story is an hour-long promenade piece in which audiences are guided around Belfast city centre while listening to "a love story between two people and their city".
Narrated by actor/director Neil Keery, Quartered explores the ways in which Belfast's LGBTQ community reacts to and interacts with its surroundings in the 'Queer Quarter' and elsewhere.
It's based on the Co Tyrone-born writer's own experiences in Belfast, as well as those of others gleaned via a series of interviews and open forums in which people were encouraged to share their experiences and thoughts on Belfast as an 'LGBT-inclusive' city.
"What I really wanted to do was to create a piece that looked at the LGBTQ community and the unique experience they have of Belfast, to look at what their relationship with the city was," Dominic explains.
"Belfast is becoming more and more inclusive, but yet different people are still playing by different rules. You can't really walk down the street holding hands. or be openly affectionate in public without having to second-guess whether or not it's appropriate or safe.
"So I just wanted to give an insight into that, because it's maybe a part of that [LGBTQ] experience that a lot of people wouldn't be familiar with – the sense of not having the freedom to do things without having to second-guess or over-think it."
He adds: "What's really interesting is that the vast majority of people in Belfast and Northern Ireland can probably relate to the feeling that there' parts of our identity that we either have to mask or completely hide in different areas.
"There's streets that you might not walk down or bars you wouldn't go into. It's that sense of how your identity interacts with the space that you inhabit."
While the very existence of a Queer Quarter in modern Belfast perhaps speaks to how attitudes here have become more progressive in recent years, this 'safe space' is still just a tiny part of a city with a worldwide reputation for communities living self-imposed segregation.
"I've only been here for maybe about 15 years," says Queen's University educated Dominic.
"Even in that time it's changed dramatically. I did a lot of research and a lot of interviews for the piece to make sure it was authentic, and people were talking about how in the past you would have had temporary gay venues that would have sprung up around the city.
"It's really only in the last 20 years that it's solidified into one area and I think there's a duality to that: it's great that there's an area where you can feel like you don't have to hide that part of yourself, but there's also something slightly dangerous in that too – because then it becomes the mentality that it's the only place you can do that.
"If you're gay, you have somewhere to go and be gay – you don't get to do it anywhere else. One of the things I really wanted to highlight with this walking piece going all around the Cathedral Quarter and city centre is just how small the gay quarter really is.
"I think there's a preconception that there's a load of bars and lots of stuff happening in a really bustling environment. But in reality it's like two or three bars and it all happens in one wee corner."
Quartered's city centre tour concludes at The Sunflower pub on the corner of Kent and Union Street – a very significant location, as Dominic explains.
"I think it's really important that it ends there," he tells me. "The show talks about whether it's better to have more specifically LGBTQ venues or whether it's more apt to be looking at inclusion – and The Sunflower is a shining example of what an inclusive venue can be like.
"It's kind of pointing towards a future where you don't have to define venues by their clientele, where you can be yourself regardless of who you are.
He adds: "A lot of the conversations we have about the LGBTQ community are about equal marriage, rights and civil liberties, but I think we need to remember what's happening on the ground where we live our lives too.
"Regardless of Stormont and the law, we all have the personal power to change things in this city, to make it more inclusive and accepting."
Quartered runs from March 12 to 16 with shows starting on the half hour between 4.30pm and 7pm. See Imaginebelfast.com for bookings and full festival information