Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Alexis Gregory: Riot Act

By | Published on Friday 15 July 2022

I’ve long been aware of ‘Riot Act’ – a verbatim theatre piece written and performed by Alexis Gregory and directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair – and we’ve tipped both live performances and opportunities to see it digitally in the last couple of years.  

The play, which has toured extensively, features the words – in three separate monologues – of three activists working in different periods of 20th century LGBTQ+ history.

As the latest tour comes to an end, the show heads to London’s Crazy Coqs, I spoke to Alexis to find out more about the show, his past career and his plans for the future. 

CM: Can you start by telling us about the content of the show – what stories does it tell?
AG: ‘Riot Act’ is my solo verbatim theatre piece, comprising of three monologues. I created and perform it. While the show is made up of three very separate stories – that of Michael, one of the only remaining Stonewall survivors; Lavinia, a 1970s radical drag artist; and Paul, a 90s AIDs activist – the stories do, eventually, interlink, in terms of further overlapping themes, and in terms of shared LGBTQ+ history.

CM: Talking of themes – what specific themes are explored through the show?
AG: As well as the main themes of Stonewall, drag, and AIDS activism, ‘Riot Act’, like all my work, is multi-themed, exploring community togetherness and division, family, sex, drugs, inter-generational queer friendships, gay misogyny, loss and survival.

Whilst pulling no punches, the piece is also very celebratory and uplifting, and I hope inspires people to fight for what they believe in.

CM: As you mentioned, it’s verbatim theatre. Can you tell us more about how you collected the words and the people you collected them from? Why these people in particular?
AG: Michael, Lavinia and Paul were definitely my first and only choices for the piece: there were no other possible subjects who said “no” or whose testimonials I didn’t end up eventually using.

Michael approached me about using his story, which was a total gift – it’s so rare to find any Stonewall survivors still alive.

I knew I then needed to bring the narrative from over there to the UK, and I knew a bit about the Gay Liberation Front, drag squats, and famed drag troupe The Bloolips. I knew Lavinia would be the next missing piece of the puzzle.

I knew we also needed to explore AIDS for the 80s/90s section and so, again, Paul was the perfect choice for that.

My hours and hours of interviews with each guy is what I essentially formed the three monologues out of. In interviewing each person, and creating the monologues, I placed myself in the audience and thought “if I were seeing this show, what would I really want to know?”

CM: What inspired you to create this kind of work?
AG: All of my work explores queer social and political themes, and all my work mixes drama and comedy. My plays are theatrical and stylised too. ‘Riot Act’ is also a lot of fun, and that is always another aim with my work too; to entertain people. I love making people laugh as well.

We may be exploring challenging themes, but it is always, I hope, a great night at the theatre too. ‘Riot Act’ is actually pretty camp, in many ways, the whole notion of the show is camp. Even ‘Sex/Crime’, my play on gay serial killers, was camp.

CM: Did you always plan to perform it yourself?
AG: Yes, that was always the idea, and the piece explores the idea of the performer also being the playwright, and it certainly adds the layer to it that I wanted; that the audience is watching the person who collated and shaped the interviews, performing them too.

There have been two student projects of ‘Riot Act’ and at this stage, student or LGBT groups are the only ones I’ll grant the rights to. One day, I’d like another young out gay male actor to take it on. Maybe I’ll direct him doing so and follow the lead of the show’s current director Rikki Beadle-Blair.

CM: I know you’ve staged the show in London before, and done several tours, and you’re coming to the end of the latest tour just now – will this be the end of the road for the show or do you have future plans for it?
AG: I’ve had such a blast touring this show, and it has gone further than I ever thought possible. I don’t know if I will perform the show in London again in the immediate future, it really has to be the ‘right’ venue that helps me put the show in front of new audiences.

I have lots of other things I want to do and achieve too. There is a separate project I am developing that will carry the ‘Riot Act’ legacy on, in a very new way. But never say never, the show does keep reinventing itself, in terms of what it does next.

CM: Can we talk about your career? Did you always want to perform? How did your career begin?
AG: Yes, I always did. As a school child, the most important thing for me was being in school plays, and my acting classes outside of school. I started attending acting classes at the age of eleven, and then at the age of fifteen I found myself an agent, Sharon Harris, who I am always grateful to for being the first ever person in the industry to believe in me.

She got me working from my teens onwards in film, TV and in commercials. I got into theatre relatively late in my career. I started working with Rikki Beadle-Bair’s Team Angelica company in around 2003, which was life changing, and then with Rikki, and John Gordon’s mentorship, I started creating my own work around 2012.

Looking back, as a child, I’d always written too, and used to create plays at school for me and my classmates to put on.

CM: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
AG: I would have to say ‘Riot Act’ is, in terms of writing and performing my own work. To have gone on such a journey with it; to have performed it all over London, and made my West-End debut with it, as did director Rikki Beadle-Blair.

Having performed in around thirty five different theatres across the country, attended screenings of the screen version, having the piece live on online.  And of course, performing for, and meeting, amazing audiences and working with great collaborators on it. All along, it’s always been a massive team effort. I certainly haven’t done all of that on my own.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future? 
AG: Professionally, I want to carry on creating work that means something to me, and hopefully, in turn, means something to audiences. I want to carry on creating very different work each time, that somehow still manages to ‘fit together’. 

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
AG: I have just finished workshopping, at New Diorama, a new solo theatre piece ‘Smoke’, working with the brilliant filmmaker Campbell X, who is directing for me. Campbell is a genius, and I’m so excited to finally be working with him.

I have two other very big ‘epic’ plays that are in development, ‘Instrumental’, and ‘Modern Sky’, as well as trying to work through my list of other ideas and get them off the ground.

I’m also working on a couple of book ideas with my agent Rukhsana Yasmin at The Good Literary Agency, and that is a very new and exciting step forward for me too. I’m also trying to rest and pace myself in amongst all that too.

Alexis Gregory performs ‘Riot Act’ at Crazy Coqs on 25 Jul, see the venue website here for details.

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Photo: Holly Revell