'That sort of thing really makes it worthwhile' - The Bleeding Obvious' Jessica Rowbottom Interview
Yorkshire lesbian Jessica Rowbottom is the sole member of The Bleeding Obvious, a one women show that describes her own coming out experience through original songs and tales.
Described by Get in Her Ears as 'An LGBTQ+ driven musical trinket box' and 'very controversial, with a bit of fun added in' by Kai Kaiama at Trans Radio Uk, Jessica recounts reactions from family and friends, dating, growing up and many other issues.
Running at Udderbelly Bristo Square Edinburgh for 8 performances between 6-14 August, The Bleeding Obvious is 'clever patter and original musical gems' (Metro UK).
I was able to talk to Jessica all about the show and her experiences in preparing to perform at the famous Edinburgh Fringe
Can you tell us about the show that you are putting on?
I am the single sole member of the band called The Bleeding Obvious and I pretty much bang around on a piano and sing songs about being queer. But as time has gone on, it’s sort of turned into more of a musical cabaret about coming out. I came out of the closet in a sort of haphazard way over a decade ago now, so I’ve had all of these coming out experiences and the way that people have reacted to them; the way that friends, family, and all that react to that, and so it started turning into a bit of a show.
I talk about the weird reactions you get, the strange things that people say. For instance, my grandmother blamed it on me eating too much cheese. And then I started dating and I tried to find my own way, and I discovered all these problems, and suddenly know what male privilege I had originally, as I’m transgender. And it’s about growing up, it was section 28 in the 1980’s, which was from the conservative government, prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality in schools, and for someone like me, that was important point. And all of that became the show. So, in a nutshell, the show is about coming out. Coming out and coping with things, what people say and what people do. And it’s peppered with, I think there’s eight or nine songs and it’s the only show that features the lyric demisexual panromantic polyamorous androgyne. I’m doing Trans Pride Brighton this week, and I’m doing that song, and it’s being signed by a BSL so that’s going to be interesting.
And what inspired you to share your story in the show? Was it to give people something to relate too?
Yeah, pretty much without fail, I will have somebody comment, somebody come up to me after the show and say I found this tough because you’ve just described my life. There’s quite an element of activism to the show. There’s a section about straight people turning up at pride, there’s a section about creepy blokes lecturing and leering after my wife and I at a party because they want to try and convert us. Which is funny but people can relate to that.
It's really nice to be able to come back to that, it’s education by the back door, talking about this sort of stuff. And folks can come up to me afterwards, people do come up to me after the show and say I didn’t quite realise that.
So, it’s educational as well
Yeah, it’s worth it for me to do that. And it’s banging a drum for the LGBTQ community
Do you think that it’s important to have that level of brutal honesty in shows and to use theatre as a way to be honest and to tell these stories?
I think so. Yeah. Most of what you see nowadays, in what are said to be LCBTQ shows use up to 95% drag. I think, you know, that pride events are now largely drag pageants and big corporations going oh look at putting rainbows on things and stuff for a month. And so, my show tends to fit into a niche. The first thing I say when I go onto stage is ‘Hi my name is Jess, I’m a single sole member of Bleeding Obvious and if you were expecting a drag queen, I am not a drag queen. And I do get put on by other LGBT venues with drag acts as sometimes they don’t know where to put me. So, it’s quite an important thing to do that in a non-drag capacity.
Yeah, so that being honest and showing that true living it sort of side of LGBT?
Yes, I never stopped coming out, it never stopped. And when I talk about my kids, I mean, we’ve got three kids between Helen and I. We’ve got two non-binary kids and we’ve got one flamboyantly pansexual, and that presents its own challenges as well. And we come out all the time. They say, you know, I get asked sometimes about, which one of you gave birth to them. I make a joke of it, considering that I’ve had two kids, you know, I’ve got a fantastic figure. But yes, I never ever stop coming out?
Yes, you’re always having to explain it to people. So, you want to show that side of living in the community rather than what you see at pride, which is often the flamboyant, the colour and rainbows?
Yeah, I mean most of the people, I’m presuming, on my street are straight. You know, cisgender heterosexual people and I think that the only change that I’ve made recently is that I’ve started carrying my birth certificate in my purse. You can say just in case something kicks off.
So, there is that element of having to explain yourself and prove yourself almost?
What goes into preparing a show to go to the fringe? I imagine that it’s a lot of organisation.
Yeah, it’s been a bit overwhelming. I didn’t originally plan to do the fringe. And back over Easter, I had just finished a tour doing a load of headline shows, which was great, and then I came down with Covid pretty much the week after. And in my addled brain, I decided yeah, go on, I’ll apply for a load of stuff. And I got a very good venue at the fringe. So, I hadn’t quite realised exactly how much went into it, I’m only doing a partial run anyway. But there’s suddenly everything to do, all the promo and all the pushing and everything like that. I’m largely my own promoter anyway, so I’m fairly used to it. But even so it’s been overwhelming, and I have a very, very tolerant wife.
I remember the last time I went; I went as a spectator. The last time I went to the fringe was 7 years ago and we basically spent the entire month just doing everything, which was great. And that kind of made me think yeah, I should. One day I will do this, and I guess that this year is it. I went to Edinburgh about a month ago for a friend’s stag do, I was basically invited as the token lesbian, but we got some time to go and do a bit of exploring and to just remind myself how things work, like what there is and how close things were or weren’t.
And originally, I didn’t think that I had storage space at the venue, I’ve got boxes of stuff and there’s a lighting rig as well and things like that. And I thought, oh my God, I need to pack all of this into two bags that I can carry. But I have got some storage space in the venue, which is nice. However, it’s still challenging. I have 10 minutes to set up and 10 minutes to tear down.
Yes, I was looking at the different schedules, and there’s not a lot of time for changeovers.
No, it’s 10 minutes. 10 minutes pack up, 10 minutes tear down, with five minutes get in and out for the audience. But it should be okay. I’ve got it down to about eight minutes set up and tear down now in my practice space. It’s a lot, but it’s all going to be tremendous fun and bloody exhausting.
Do you think that events such as the fringe are important for bringing these small shows and new work to audiences?
Almost, I think it’s bloody expensive to do it. In my mind, I’m finding it easier to work around it, and what I’m after getting out of it. If I treat it effectively like a trade show that the public happen to be invited to. I want to do it for my own personal developments, my own experience. But I am in a privileged position that in my day job, I can afford to do this, and I can still work during the day whilst I am there. A friend, a few years ago, said that it was cripplingly expensive to do the full run. I have a couple of friends who have done it. I can’t compare it to a comedy night here in Wakefield, with nine or ten new comedians every month, but from that I’ve got this little network now, and a couple of them have done the fringe. They were saying ‘I’ve stopped doing it about five or six years ago, because it wasn’t the risk-taking event it was. But yes, you have to have the money to do it, and the backing and to be able to fit it around work and all that kind of thing. If I wasn’t doing it this year, I was probably going to end up doing Camden Fringe, it was probably going to be a different kettle of fish, or Brighton Fringe, Edinburgh is bloody expensive
Even just to go for a few days is pricey, let alone to stay up there for the length of time performers do
And travel, you know. I’m up there for 13 or 14 days, with eight performances but then I’ve got things like my tech, and my promo and pr, plus all the shows that I want to see. And because it’s a singing show, I’ve got to rest my voice. I can’t just so bang, bang, bang, and do them all. And I wouldn’t have been able to afford to do a full run, no chance. Whether I do it again depends on how this goes.
What do you want the audiences to get out of your show?
I want them to go away and think actually, we’ve got some problems going on now in this country. We’ve got the bigotry of the 80’s, which is back, we’ve got section 28. The government is largely pushing the same arguments on transgender people now and still pushing young lesbian and gay people. And I want them to go away whistling songs and thinking, yeah, that was quite catchy and have fun with that.
So, you want to entertain but also make them think as well?
Absolutely. Let me tell you a tale. There was a music festival a few years ago, local to Wakefield, and I did all my songs about coming out, being enlightened and all that. And this bloke came up to me afterwards. I normally go for a walk at festivals, soak it all in for a little bit and come down from the show, and this bloke covered in tattoos, skin head, came up to me and said he wanted to talk to me. I was just making eye contact with my wife, just so that she knew what was going on, and we just went for a walk. And he said, I’m really struggling. I’m struggling because I know that I’m in the wrong body and I know I can’t do anything about it, and I just wanted to talk to you because I can get a bit of strength from that. And that sort of thing really makes it worthwhile. And if an audience goes away, and one member of that audience has it in their head thinking, I’m not alone, that’s 100% worthwhile and that will make the fringe worthwhile.
I mean, I talk about coming out experiences, I talk about the people that you have to deal with that will consider you dead and talk about people who get overexcited because they’ve suddenly got a gay best friend. There’s a story about a friend who’s Manchester through and through and his reaction was completely unexpected, and how much that matters.
I would like to thank Jessica for taking the time to talk to me and wish her the very best for the show's run at the Fringe and the future.
Tickets for The Bleeding Obvious at Edinburgh Fringe are available here https://www.underbellyedinburgh.co.uk/events/event/the-bleeding-obvious