Shelfield Academy TiE days

I spent Thursday at the lovely Shelfield Academy in Walsall, working with a group of Y13 students who are creating a Theatre in Education piece for Y9 pupils. A great bunch of young people, with some great ideas, we spent the day looking at existing styles and methods of creative education practice, as well as considering the interests and experiences of their target audience and how we can use this information to keep their engagement. The piece is going to be looking at tackling the issue of ‘Sexting’ and may go further than the boundaries of their school itself. They will begin their devising process shortly, and I am to return in a couple of weeks to offer further advice on their piece as it takes shape. It’s the first time I’ve been asked to deliver a workshop which was largely about sharing my experience, and talking about my ideas, and what I think works best. Quite a different experience to delivering issue based workshops in secondary schools, or pretending to be a Roman in a primary school, but enjoyable all the same.
I look forward to hearing how their piece is developing, as well as the questions that arise as their process continues.

Unity Festival 2013

I’m just back from shadowing a fantastic weekend of theatre at the Unity Festival in Cardiff. Managed by Hijinx Theatre the festival brings the best of inclusive and disability arts to one fortnight in Cardiff. It’s NOT about celebrating disabled artists because they are overcoming adversity, it IS about celebrating fantastic art, which just happens to feature artists with (as well as without) disabilities.Graeae - The Iron Man

The festival gave me a great opportunity to connect with companies, and to gain invaluable experience of outdoor performance, as I spent a great deal of time shadowing Kazzum’s ‘Addressed to a friend’ and Graeae’s ‘The Iron Man’.

One of the first performances I saw was the incredible Cia Jose Galan. A company of four flamenco dancers which included two learning disabled performers.

ImageI’m no expert on flamenco, but what I can say is the hour long piece felt like twenty minutes, I was captivated by the skill, precision, passion and humour of the performers. But also I was challenged. I’ve always held a bit of a belief that regimented training is the wrong approach for Learning Disabled artists, and that more can be gained from developing a movement vocabulary of your own. A view that Learning Disabled performers should not be forced to try to emulate the performance styles of non-disabled performers, just as a non-disabled performer should not try to perform as a learning disabled person. But seeing the dancers of Cia Jose Galan, their precision, the clear joy, confidence, but also adaptation and fluidity evident in their movement totally shifted my opinions.

Air raid siren overlooking Mind The Gap's Irresistible

The weekend also gave me opportunities to see work by Kazzum, Graeae, Taking Flight, Mind the Gap, Odyssey, Bicycle Ballet and Natural Diversions, and tonnes of ideas and inspiration with regards to integrated signing and audio description. A highlight was the opportunity to become one of Mind the Gap’s ‘Wind up merchants’ operating an air raid siren as part of the fantastic ‘Irresistible’, a piece which I had wanted to see since I first heard of it’s Unlimited commission, many moons ago.

Here’s hoping I can return to the festival in 2014!

14/48 – The World’s Quickest Theatre Festival

The Adventures of Henry - 14/48 Seattle

I’ve just had an exhilarating and exhausting week in Seattle, attending 14/48 – ‘The world’s quickest Theatre festival’. I’ve known about the festival for about 8 years, and have wanted to make the journey ever since. The festival is a whirlwind of professional artists coming together to create. On Thursday night, the writers, directors, designers, actors, musicians (and others) meet, a theme is drawn from a hat, and seven writers are given the task of writing a 10 minute script for a set number of male and/or female actors overnight. The next day, the scripts are handed in, seven directors choose their scripts at random, and after meeting with the writer pick their cast out of male and female hats. The plays are then rehearsed, designed, scored and performed on Friday night… twice! To sell-out 450 strong audiences. The audience members submit new themes, one of which is drawn at random, given to the writers, and… the whole thing repeats itself ready for Saturday night. 14 plays in 48 hours… it should fail… but it doesn’t.

I had the privilege of acting in 14/48, first as a caveman in a subtle piece about gun control entitled ‘Gift from Moon’, and secondly as a seven-year old imagining adventures as he tries to reach a father imprisoned for some hideous crime in ‘The Adventures of Henry’. I can’t recommend the festival enough. This time-limited way of working forces you to work in a certain way; to make choices quickly, to throw yourself into your role, but above all, to support your colleagues and forge partnerships. The arts scene is very different in America, a country with little, or no, public arts funding. Professionals must work ‘regular’ jobs to live, and things like Arts in education are virtually non-existent. Without festivals like 14/48, I’ve no doubt the Seattle theatre scene would be very different; without opportunities for Artists to come together, make connections, and create in such a limited time commitment, where would those partnerships be forged? Now, I’m not saying that this is always going to be the best way of making theatre, we’re not going to create the next War Horse by giving a writer a 12 hour deadline. The Olympics opening ceremony couldn’t have been put together in a day, but as a way of forging creative communities through creative practise, the festival is phenomenal.

My head is filled with inspiration and thoughts, perhaps too much for one blog post at present, but the main thought is this… if Seattle can make amazing theatre happen despite limited funding with the help of a festival like 14/48, just think what can be done here with the potential for well-thought out projects to grow, supported by public funding.

14/48 is coming to Leicester, in May this year, and myself and Andy from Speakeasy hope to be involved in some way. I’ll share more thoughts over the next few weeks, and information regarding the Leicester 14/48 festival will be shared as it becomes available.

For more on the Seattle 14/48, visit