Can you introduce yourself to our readers and give us an idea of what you do?
Hi there! I’m Tim Ralphs, a performance storyteller, host of The Story Forge, and trainee Interfaith Minister. I’ll unpack those things in order, and hopefully that’ll provide a foundation for what I’ll be doing for Hidden Perspectives.
As a storyteller, I draw on traditional material and performance techniques, using folktales and myths to create live performances. For example, Simon Heywood and I recently received a British Award for Storytelling Excellence for our collaboration to adapt The Epic of Gilgamesh into a 90 minute show. It was great fun!
I’m also a part of the general spoken word and storytelling landscape of Sheffield. The Story Forge is a club that features touring artists and local tellers, meeting in the Fat Cat on the third Tuesday of the month. I’ve been running that for a few years with the expressed goal of raising the profile of oral storytelling locally and growing audiences for traditional storytelling. I’ve also been involved with community storytelling initiatives, such as The Beacons Project which annually transforms Parkwood Springs.
And for the last two years I’ve been attending the seminary of The One Spirit Interfaith Foundation, an organisation that trains Interfaith Ministers and I’m due to be ordained in August 2013, all being well. It’s been a really intense and profound period of personal growth and spiritual enquiry. Because the seminary actively celebrates diversity it attracts quite a significant number of people who have found that their own gender or sexual identities have not really had a place in traditional religious institutions. As such, it’s been a really good environment in which to explore the interplay between scripture and the modern human condition and so, from my point of view, Hidden Perspectives couldn’t have come along at a better time!
How did you get involved with Hidden Perspectives?
In the Summer of 2012 I was involved in some work to explore storytelling techniques with Phd. Students and early career researchers with a view to considering how this artform might impact public engagement. It was a great project, and it introduced me to the overall strategy of community artistic engagement that The University of Sheffield has. It also meant that I was on the radar of Katie Edwards of the Bible Studies department, and she approached me with a view to commissioning something for Hidden Perspectives.
Why do you think projects like Hidden Perspectives are important?/Do you believe LGBTQ and the Bible should be discussed together (under the same platform)?
I’ve worked with people who have suffered an enormous amount of trauma because of the difficult relationship between their religion and their sexual and gender identity. I think that there’s been enormous progress in this area over the last few decades. At the last Sheffield Pride it was great to see so many religious institutions actively trying to reach out and create an environment that welcomed the LGBTQ community. On the other hand, I was attending a Catholic Mass when the letter from The Bishop’s Council was read prior to the Government’s consultation on changing the legal definition of marriage, and it made my skin crawl. There’s still a culture within many religious institutions that actively discriminates against people based on their sexual and gender identity, but to be honest, if you’re reading this blog then I’m probably not telling anyone anything new.
To me, The Bible is a sacred text. Sexuality is a sacred experience. Hidden Perspectives gives us a place to explore how tightly these things are connected. My attitude to this commission has been to find the overlap between these two holy matters and bring it out through live performance. Tolerance is not what excites me. I want to see the queer and the religious together in celebration.
How will you ‘bring the Bible out of the closet’at the festival on 1 June?
Glad you asked! I’m going to be performing a version of the story of Jonathon and David, from the Book of Samuel, which will focus on the love between these two men. Obviously, this perspective is nothing new. There’s been recorded discussion about the nature of Jonathon and David’s relationship stretching back at least the last eight hundred years, and it’s not for me to tell Bible Studies Academics anything about that. It’s just for me to tell the stories well, and as authentically as I can.
I have been conducting interviews with gay people of faith, and my performance of the Biblical narrative will be interspersed with stories based on the lives and experiences of gay people. The interviews have been very powerful, lots of tears, lots of anger, lots of very deep explorations of pain and love. By combining these two streams of story, I want to show how the Biblical account both contrasts with modern human experience and also how it resonates with them. I believe there’s an enormous potential for the Bible to be source of healing, celebration and affirmation. That’s part of why I consider it a sacred scripture.
What are your next projects?
My next show couldn’t be further from Jonathon and David! It’s a piece called “Rebranding Beelzebub” and it’s a high energy and hilarious collection of urban devil stories that will draw on folktales of the great tempter, the local history of Hilsborough’s Wards End Cemetery, cheating at online scrabble and some of the darker parts of my own ambition as a storyteller. I’ve always enjoyed taking traditional tales and adapting them to work in modern settings and that’s something that “Rebranding Beelzebub” will be full of, a fusion of material devised for The Soho Theatre, The Story Forge and some new stuff. You can see it in June at Night of The StoryTeller at The Miller, London. It’s also on at The Broadway Cinema in Nottingham on 27thJune, email me for more details!
If all goes well I’ll be performing it in Sheffield as part of the Off the Shelf Literature Festival, which is a bit nearer to home.
But apart from that, I’ve got a lot of soul searching to do before my ordination, and I’m getting married in September, so there’s a wedding to plan. Enough to be busy with, that’s for sure!