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Rebecca Humphries: I was wrong to feel threatened by a similar show to mine, we are allies not enemies

Cast of Prom Kween at Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh. Photo: Max Lacome Rebecca Humphries and Sam Swann in Prom Kween at Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh. Photo: Max Lacome
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Last Friday morning I woke up to 14 friends congratulating me via text on my show’s transfer to the Other Palace with a planned Broadway run. Amazing, right? Wrong.

It wasn’t my show, it just sounded like it. Rather than Prom Kween, which I produced and took to Edinburgh last year, the London venue is putting on a show called Prom Queen. While the concepts are similar, they have nothing to do with each other.

My show came about when, two years ago, I discovered an article online so compelling it felt as though it was calling out to be given a theatrical makeover. Just a month after the tragedy at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Matthew Crisson was crowned the first ever non-binary winner of the coveted title of prom queen at his high school.

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In the face of a polarising political landscape and growing popular anger in the US, this felt like a little beacon of light. We created a show satirising modern day America and it’s pop culture, politics and every high school movie you wished you didn’t secretly like. It was about being ok with not knowing your ‘brand’, about feeling anxious about your place in society, but still being entitled to celebrate and love yourself.

For two years, I’ve been immersed in a world where uniqueness and generosity reign supreme. So why did I feel so threatened by another production whose ethics were so similar to those of my show? Why did I feel the same way last year, when we were constantly compared with Everybody’s Talking about Jamie?

They are all coming of age stories set in a high school and based on a true story. They all embrace the LGBT+ community and all culminate in a prom.

Comparisons will always be rife in this fiercely competitive industry. We’re so often put into boxes, on to rungs of career ladders, and around like-minded creatives it’s hard to hold on to and believe in what we have to offer. It is too easy to feel like an island, rather than part of a community.

With Prom Kween, I set out to make a piece of theatre about unity and fun. Shows such as Everybody’s Talking about Jamie, Prom Queen and our Prom Kween have those same values at their core but that means some people lump them in the same category. To assume that there must only be one coming of age story about a person of the LGBT+ community is, in fact, discriminatory and offensive.

There is room for us all, and the more these stories are being told and encouraging kids to be their best selves is an amazing thing. Already through Prom Kween I have been made aware of the Mosaic Trust, a charity that supports young people in the LGBT+ community. Representatives from the trust came to see the show in its first incarnation at Vault Festival last year, and we have been allies ever since.

The trust did a Pride Prom this weekend with some of the show’s cast volunteering. Without this piece of theatre, it wouldn’t have happened. I’m certain that the creatives involved with Jamie have had similar experiences throughout its journey.

I’ve come to consider other productions that share traits with mine as allies not enemies. Much like many one-woman shows dismissed as Fleabag-lite post Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s breakout hit, it was amazing how many fought through, told stories in their own voices and embraced and elevated other women doing the same. This generous spirit runs through theatre. And I would encourage you to support all these shows, and not just mine.


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