Forty Years Out (And Counting): Performing The Archive


Rose Collis has been an out lesbian writer, performer and activist for more than 40 years. She has witnessed, participated in and chronicled many key events in lesbian and gay history: early Pride marches; the AIDS crisis; tabloid media attacks; Section 28 and, in particular, her four years at City Limits magazine in the 1980s.

She has curated an extensive archive that chronicles and reflects the social/political history and evolution of the lesbian community’s contribution to the fight for LGBT rights. She realised that this would form the ideal basis for a solo stage show written and performed by her – in effect, an artistic intervention where she ‘performed the archive’, bridging the gap between art and heritage. It responds directly to the growing interest around lesbian history amongst many LGBT people. Acapella songs and first-hand testimony would combine to deliver an entertaining show combining true tales of discrimination, demonstration, commemoration and celebration.

Forty Years Out (And Counting): Performing The Archive began life at the Queering Memory ALMS Conference held at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 27 June –29 June 2019. The emphasis of the confernce was ‘focused on exploring the potential of generating audiences for queer archives, libraries, museums and special collections, with a special emphasis on the arts and artistic interventions.’

Rose Collis was chosen from 400 applicants and awarded a small bursary to present a ‘taster’ for the show she hoped to develop, and it received an enthusiastic audience reception:

Jan Pimblett: Well @RoseCollis1 went down a storm in Berlin!

Robert Chevara: It’s wonderful. Biting, moving and political. Bravo. Vital work on our history and really brilliantly done and performed.

Scott Roedesheimer, Purple Playhouse: What a fabulous piece. I’m so very pleased that you are sharing your perspective and experience in this way – it’s completely unique and humanises the historical record.

Photo: Jan Pimblett

This ‘taster’ can be seen here:

On November 2019, Rose Collis performed a bespoke five-minute illustrated ‘pitch-up’ for Forty Years Out (And Counting) at the prestigious (only eleven acts were selected) at a House Farnham Maltings event, Brighton Dome. Audience included industry professionals and senior Arts Council England officers.

Rose Collis received an Arts Council England National Lottery Project Grant in January 2020 to create a new solo stage show and associated talks and workshops, which would ‘flag up the lesbian’.

The project began with three ‘taster’ events for the Outing the Past Festival 2020: at Higgins Bedford Museum, (Feb 15) Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (Feb 22); Jubilee Library Brighton (Mar 1).

The events consisted of a 20-minute ‘taster’ of what might be included in the show, comprising stories, images & acapella songs, followed by Q&As. All were extremely well attended and enthusiastically received by audiences and organisers alike.

They overwhelmingly provided evidence of a keen inter-generational interest in the subjects/themes for different types of audiences, viz:

  • Those who know nothing about the subjects/themes, and would like to know more

  • Those who know a little, and would like to know more

  • Those who know a lot but like to remember and revisit them, viewed through this unique lens

This was evident from the audience feedback for the ‘taster’ shows:

‘An important, educational and much-deserved spotlight on forgotten lesbian history’.

‘Lively, informative and great to see archive material’.

‘An informative, entertaining, political, heart-wrenching short trip through an important lesbian time in herstory!’

‘I’m not gay so although I know bits and pieces about gay history, most was new in the detail and I learned a lot’.

‘Memory enhancing’.

‘It is important for LGBT rights/awareness’.

‘Great mix of power/activism, fun and the hard stuff’.

‘Very powerful, very informative, superbly presented’.

‘Bringing to light hidden but important history’.

‘Not part of my history, so extremely informative and interesting’.

‘Really interesting. Vital history, relevant to today’s struggles. Funny too!’

Rose Collis is hoping to develop the pandemic-delayed stage show in 2023, under its new title, Have You Heard?: Stories From The Archive