From a scream to a whisper

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Every actor knows that shouting on stage only works in tiny doses but that speaking quietly, with conviction, makes an audience lean in…and listen.

This weeks’ Arts Council and British Council supported NO BOUNDARIES conference, live-linked between Hull Truck Theatre and Home in Manchester was a gathering of the UK cultural clan.

The great, the good and the doing it anyway to the best of their ability sat in the two auditoria, in front of a heady mix of opinion, reflection and prophecy delivered rapid fire, in 10 minute blocks, by a diverse range of speakers. 

Provocations from dynamic artists, producers, shapers and thinkers chewed over the indigestible Brexit cud, and break out groups wrestled with challenges for the arts around identity, collaboration, diversity and it’s birth mother- inclusion- brought giddily out of the Ashram on the hill and back into town-  a repositioning generally viewed as a far better active aim- after all it’s very possible to be diverse without including anyone in anything, least of all decision-making.

The symposium highlighted disability-focused theatre as a political mechanism and platform, powerfully articulated by the extraordinary Jess Thom.

The Separate Doors 2 project ignites at RADA in London next week and the NO BOUNDARIES symposium served as a timely reminder of the many different ways people are fighting the battle for disability representation in theatre.

Complementing the polemic charge, Separate Doors 2 aims to find routes for actors with moderate learning disabilities, less equipped to fight verbal battles, to take their place on stages, in stories crafted to move, to shift perception, assumption and prejudice via imagination and analogy.

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It’s hoped that by finding a place for exceptional actors with learning disabilities on main stages, in TV and film, collaborating with exceptional writers and directors, in drama and comedy that appeals to general audiences that the rudderless dark sailed boat the UK currently drifts along in is guided away from the rocks by warm breezes of knowledge and understanding.

Or at least to be part of that drive for a broad-viewed future.

The artistic integration in high quality theatre programming and making that Separate Doors 2 wants to encourage won’t shout, but it will influence those who need to hear the message, delivering a compelling argument for inclusion to those who can effect change… in a whisper.

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Pioneers at RADA

Separate Doors 2 aims to change the UK theatre landscape for the better, offering tools for producers and directors to cast actors with learning disabilities in general audience facing work.

The project, focused on an exploration of the silent approach with RADA in London, starts soon.

Its going to be a dynamic and diverse rehearsal room.

Here are some of the key creatives making fire…

 

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This is me. I’ll be producing, directing some new writing, chairing the panel at the event and writing a printed report of the whole project. I can’t wait to work in the rehearsal room with this inspiring and brilliant team, all committed to finding ways to build bridges into general programme work for exceptional actors with learning disabilities.

 

Geoff BullenGeoff Bullen is director of short courses at RADA where he is Emeritus Director of actor training and specialises in teaching Shakespeare. Geoff will work with me to direct the project in the rehearsal room and in the performance space.

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Toby Meredith will work with me and the RADA team on the silent approach and in developing character through scene work. A graduate of Dark Horse actor training programmes he recently worked on the research and development process for A MAN WITH DOWNS’ SYNDROME TALKS ABOUT LOVE AND TELLS A STORY.

Jack Condon is a finJack Condonal year student actor at RADA and he’ll be working with the team to explore Shakespearean text, character and ensemble movement work, developing skills in the silent approach and considering the opportunities offered by working as an actor in an integrated process.

 

 

Version 2Rebekah Hill is a Dark Horse actor training graduate with production experience.  She’ll develop character and scenes using the silent approach and Stanislavsky based techniques. 

 

 

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Angela Gasparetto is a movement director and specialist and she will explore the silent approach and the possibilities of integrated work with an emphasis on physicality. 

 

 

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Joe Sproulle is an actor with production and national touring experience who recently worked on the research and development process for A MAN WITH DOWNS’ SYNDROME TALKS ABOUT LOVE AND TELLS A STORY. Trained in the silent approach he looks forward to sharing and developing his skills within this project ensemble.

Joel Trill

 

Joel Trill is a voice and accent specialist and he will collaborate with the directors and ensemble to explore sound, character and vocal transformation through story, working with and learning about the silent approach and integrated rehearsal processes.

 

 

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Alice Rogers has recently graduated from a Dark Horse foundation acting course and is developing her skills in the silent approach and building performance for production. 

 

 

Gary LagdenGary Lagden is a text and acting technique specialist and he will work with the silent approach to explore non verbal narrative and technique for actors with learning disabilities in integrated work which plays out to general audiences. 

 

 

A further female actor, two Assistant Directors and two creative associates complete the team, more news is to come soon alongside information re: the esteemed panel who’ll debate potential and obstacles in representation and casting after the process showing at RADA.

It all shapes up to be very exciting indeed, check in to the Separate Doors 2 page on this site for insights into the project as it happens.

Making tomorrows theatre today.

 

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Theatre boxed off

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Verbatim

A piece of theatre made entirely of real peoples harvested opinions and recollections, shaped into a structure and then presented theatrically. The process avoids authorial voice and guarantees authenticity.

Commercial

Popular, entertaining, accomplished and designed to attract a high ticket price.

Disability-led

Theatre or other art forms examining the disability life experience featuring the work of artists with disabilities, leading.

New writing

A play in script form written by a playwright which did not exist before this current production. Risky, as no one may like it, compare with ‘Midsummer Nights Dream’ which is less risky because people already know if they like it or not.

Relaxed performance

A specific style and context for theatrical delivery designed to support audiences with learning disabilities and neuro-differences.

LGBT/Transgender/Non binary

Theatre made by and for people who are not heterosexual and 100 per cent gender specific and identified.

Integrated

A piece of theatre featuring actors and collaborators who are not 100 per cent non disabled.

Dementia-friendly

Theatre framed to be appealing for people with dementia.

BAME

Theatre made with and by actors, artists and leadership which is not 100 per cent white.

Issues-based

A context in which to explore a specific concern arising from a state of difference or conflict.

Compelling, innovative, accessible, narrative-based, embracing, scorchingly written and daringly executed theatre from diverse voices which mitigates against the segregation of identity theatre could be a very good thing…

Right now…

 

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Truth

 

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A home truth

A moment of truth

Truth is stranger than fiction

 

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Pinnochio by Pepe Aveni

 

A grain of truth

 

Half the truth is often the whole truth

 

A liar is not believed when he tells the truth

 

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Pinnochio by Kenton Wilson

 

A nugget of truth

 

The greater the truth the greater the lie

 

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Pinnochio profile by David Wiles

 

The naked truth

 

The truth will out

 

Truth, justice and the American way

 

 

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The death of Pinnochio by Gottfried Heinwein

 

Production shots; a genre guide

 

A bit of theatre related fun as fundraising displacement activity…

Enjoy!

The drinking tea top turn two shot

 

Modelled here by Dames Dench and Smith and Sirs McKellen and Stewart only ever to be attempted by the ennobled theatrical. Note the casual mugs in the first photograph and the formal teacups in the second, contemporary and classic drama encapsulated in pot and bone china, different centuries but both classy, civilised and mid afternoon in Surrey.

 

The star actors transformed two shot

 

Played two ways here: Peter Bowles and Penelope Keith gently disguise themselves in restoration costume whilst re-assuringly playing the characters we know and love from the tele. Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton show they are very much not themselves but in character with the aid of non radio 2 eyebrow make up, braces, ringlets and a dowdy dress.

 

The thousand yard stare

 

Tanya Moodie gives joy towards the sky, Glenda Jackson a despairingly quizzical glance in the same direction, David Tennant appeals to a passing giant while Joe Sproulle has seen and been amazed by it, whatever it might be, at the back of the dress circle.

 

The actor grab

 

Nothing indicates drama better in a photograph than grabbing a fellow actor, especially by the head, or the ears if possible, that’s even stronger.  Body grabbing a colleague is beautifully demonstrated here on Denise Gough, Tamsin Outhwaite goes for the highly accomplished triple; an ear head and body grab and Headlongs‘ 1984 is a masterclass in bonce grabbing.

 

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Keeping the imagery active and sexy with Sir Lenny Henry and Kathryn Hunter.

 

The dramatic lean

 

Beautiful movement here from Kevin Spacey followed by an example of the eponymous ‘lean threatening to smother’ from Frantic Assembly

 

The all pile on

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The Ramps On the Moons‘ Government Inspector cast with a large scale rendition of  ‘We’re all in it, there’s bloody loads of us and we are magnificent.’  

 

Going Grrh and Aaargh

 

Dame Glenda again, Dame Harriet Walter and Maxine Peake. Silently noisy. Dynamic.

 

The ‘this is where it all started’ rehearsal room shot

 

Good for programme padding and front of house when the production shots didn’t come out very well.  Tamsin Greig chuckles while clutching a scenes’ worth of A4, Harriet Walter gives intense textual scrutiny and we have a double whammy at the National theatre with some world class script in hand pointing.

 

Wildcards..

The ‘You don’t get more dramatic than this’

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The beautifully positioned

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And finally, the ‘look at the set like this because the moment an actor sets foot on it the floor is filthy’

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Who is theatre with actors with learning disabilities for?

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Everybody.

That’s my hope and plan…

In the new writing work and rehearsal room technique that I’m developing.

Making work for general audiences is not the main goal of everyone who makes theatre with actors with learning disabilities.

‘Serving an audience’ is intrinsic to what I’m aiming to do, other creators work in other ways successfully.

I may not succeed and my colleagues may not succeed in serving an audience (all theatre work of any worth can and often does fail) but it’s always the aim to nourish people with the work when it comes to performance.

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Every second of stage time the playwright conceives, the actor inhabits, the designer sees and the director edits and channels is crafted to engage an audience.

Every member of the team, and especially the actors, know this.

An actor lives and dies on stage by serving the audience. The moment the audience is lost, they’re gone for ever.

And making each second of stage time serve an audience is the fundamental of this kind of theatre making process.

Serving an audience doesn’t mean compromising on challenge.

Serving an audience doesn’t mean creating a comfort zone where prejudices are reinforced and status quo is maintained.

Serving an audience means provoking, informing, wrong footing, thrilling and providing a shared experience of a compelling revelation.

I work with all kinds of different people from different theatre and actor training ‘worlds’.

People from the general theatre industry and people whose principal focus is diversity.

The work I’m developing with collaborators exists on the bridge between the two worlds where I believe the potential for real change is great.

It’s as easy to dismiss work which serves audiences as ‘bums on seats’ as it is to ignore learning disability-led and focused work as ‘preaching to the choir’.

All good theatre is very hard to make and the way its made is diverse.

There’s no ‘right’ way and serving audiences isn’t wrong, or easy.

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Shilly shallying

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A procrastinator

10 rules for planning and office bound activity

1. Never put off writing down an idea thinking that it will be remembered after you’ve done that very important thing that needs doing right now.

It will become a ghost ship in the mid brain.

Adrift.

Then gone.

2. Don’t half do the boring things, do them in full, however much it hurts.

After the ‘A bird in the hand = 2 in the bush’ saying the ancient proverb writers’ next greatest hit was…

A desk full of boring things half done is twice as painful as one boring thing completed.

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Two box files

3. Remember that social media is not a child, lover or source of the meaning of life and therefore doesn’t need to be checked every ten minutes for happiness, attractiveness or revelation.

Other peoples’ holiday and wedding photographs don’t ease feelings of entrapment and dullness.

They compound them.

4. Looking at all news websites for the sake of a rounded world view doesn’t wash in the post truth age.

Its all lies.

Keep it honest and do the schedule instead.

5. Budgets do not justify themselves at the sound of a block of stilton being unwrapped.

Food is not the answer.

Barricade the kitchen door.

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A fridge

6. The genius playlist that starts with Starboy and ends with a herd of cows from the SFX compilation doesn’t have to be listened to in full on headphones while staring out of the window before the next task.

Its 25 minutes long.

It takes five minutes to delete last weeks inbox.

Just saying.

7. It’s frankly unnecessary to take your own photo and try out all the effects in Photo Booth with different hairstyles and facial expressions.

Check the business bank account instead.

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Ink cartridges

8. If you’d wanted to be the Marketing Director of an organic produce company in Slovakia you would have gained some experience in retail and farming by now. And speak Slovakian.

It’s easier to clear your desk top than change career.

Shut Google down.

Yes you can.

9. Having a lengthy conversation by email is tiring and makes your fingers ache.

Use the phone instead.

It means actually thinking and making decisions.

10. Nothing is more satisfying than a sense of completion.

Delete Civilisation 5.

Deny yourself all pleasure.

Just get it bloody done.

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A keyboard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEPARATE DOORS 2: working with RADA

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Actors Joe Sproulle and Toby Meredith (Dark Horse)

Enter upstage left. Objective? To lead

The New Year kicks off, and kicks in, with an exciting new project.

I’ll be working with RADA to develop the silent approach with an ensemble of actors with, and without, learning disabilities, exploring and expanding this technique which allows for real equality in casting.

The rehearsal room door will then be opened to producers, venues, drama schools, casters and people who can affect real change.

The aim is to shift the landscape for exceptional actors with learning disabilities, to encourage integrated work on high profile stages, and generate opportunities alongside non learning disabled casts, and creative teams.

I want also to encourage access to high level vocational training for talented students with learning disabilities and to ignite bold representation in impactful new integrated work, written and directed by innovative theatre makers, work which plays out to general audiences, with the potential to make a big impact.

Here’s how…

I’ll direct a masterclass and a series of scenes with an integrated ensemble using the silent approach; focusing on action, objective, character and the method.

Collaborating with a RADA Associate Director and a team of movement, voice and acting tutors the approach will develop and grow as skills are shared.

At the end of the rehearsal process I’ll host a showing and panel discussion with some key speakers at RADA for an invited audience.

Finally I’ll write and publish a working toolkit for theatre makers who want to work with actors with learning disabilities in their casts, including interview panel transcripts, actor interviews, opinions from project partners and impressions from audience members.

Partnership with leading conservatoire RADA has unparalleled potential to develop and share the silent approach and to raise the profile of the work of vocational actors with learning disabilities.

We want to inspire real change, to encourage playwrights and directors, venues and producers, to cast bravely, and to take risks,  in an era where seeing diversity fully represented in quality drama is absolutely vital.
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Actor Rebekah Hill (Dark Horse)

We’re leaping into a bold 2017…follow the journey…

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2016, writing, theatre, diversity and work featuring actors with learning disabilities

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Jordan, a young man with Downs Syndrome, participating in the York Theatre Royal research and development event for A MAN WITH DOWNS SYNDROME TALKS ABOUT LOVE AND TELLS A STORY in the regency glory of the De Grey ballroom watched Dark Horse actor Toby Meredith work through the opening scene of the play with actor Tessa Parr, playing his sister.

CLARENCE had just arrived in his sister SAMANTHA’S luxury apartment carrying a suitcase full of his recently deceased mothers’ belongings; a tense, emotionally complex scene. Opening dialogue over I moved the room on to the next stage in the process, handing over to movement director Ita O’Brien who brought the 50 plus participants together to experience standing on SAMANTHA’S blustery fourteenth floor balcony.

Jordan however didn’t step into the turbulent air with everyone else, instead he pulled me aside and leaned in.

“I want to be Clarence. In the play. I’m going to be an actor.” he said, and clearly meant it.

It was an articulation of engagement with story, ambition and aspiration that encapsulated the aim of the work of the whole year for me. I hope one day Jordan will play Clarence, and other characters, and be in stories written by talented writers, directed by directors with vision and work in front of audiences made up of all kinds of people and find routes into that work.

That is the entire point.

It’s been an extraordinary 12 months.

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Tessa Parr, SAMANTHA and Jordan, in R and D at York Theatre Royal

2016 started with a serious commitment to developing my less than dazzling prose writing skills by setting myself a task, a discipline test, to write 31 short stories in 31 days, and only then to attempt writing Everest, a novel.

The latter sits, a daily electronic reminder of non completion on my desktop and the former, in its collected and edited form, lies, bloated with needless adjectives, in a long since unopened box file.

In  January, amid the figment 31 challenge, turning in my obligatory 2 hour long daily imagine in a hotel room in Manchester- I was there for a series of meetings but kept none the less on the story horse- it occurred to me that perhaps there was more to do, and more that should be done, out of the garret, in rehearsal rooms, and in theatres.

Two theatre trips, to THE GIRLS at the Lowry and INTO THE WOODS at the Royal Exchange Manchester compounded the solo writer doubts. Both Tim Firth and Gary Barlows’ musical, entertaining though it is, and Sondheim’s’ sublime INTO THE WOODS, left me questioning once again where actors with learning disabilities feature in mainstream productions, and perhaps more importantly just how general audiences are being offered opportunities to experience and explore diverse stories and life experiences, delivered by non white, non disabled, non standard, distinctly ‘different’ yet thoroughly brilliant actors.

The Royal Exchange has made great strides in diverse casting, INTO THE WOODS featured a deaf performer, but actors with learning disabilities simply aren’t getting the same degree of opportunity or representation in integrated work playing out to general audiences.

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Cover design for the SEPARATE DOORS report by Pip Leckenby

Producing theatre collaborators Access All Areas, Hijinx, Dark Horse and emerging company Hubbub and many community focused organisations across the UK prove the excellence that exists in training, performance and community engagement but unless doors continue to be knocked on, articulating the need for a place in programmes alongside other, and all kinds, of productions the work runs the risk of being silo-ed into ‘festivals of difference’ or specific disability focused programmes.

It can also be the case that in these segregated areas of artistic output work made by and with actors with moderate learning disabilities is less likely to see the light of day due to an inability of the artists themselves to articulate a case for their existence; currently favoured artist-led funding models don’t necessarily fit theatre work, an intrinsically collaborative form.

The influence learning disability focused theatre companies and makers have in the broader arts and media, in shaping societal attitude, cultural identity and combating the worst of regressive thinking is clear; for people with learning disabilities to slip out of general view in mainstream theatre would be a travesty, especially after so many years of effort and brilliance from many individuals and companies.

Chewing all of this over during the Manchester ovations and while typing THE END at the finish of story 31 the fantasy career as a very minor prose writer crashed and burned.

It occurred to me that as an independent I am perhaps well placed to draw collective learning’s together from a notional learning disability theatre ‘sector’ and to wave a multi-lateral flag for the great work that’s being done by so many.

SEPARATE DOORS seemed a fine way to start.

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Jen Sumner, Artistic Director of Hubbub during SEPARATE DOORS film shoot

A curiosity about the processes, practises and rehearsal room techniques of leading companies with a learning disability focus led me to approach Nick Lewellyn, Artistic Director of Access All Areas, Ben Pettitt-Wade, Artistic Director of Hijinx, Lynda Hornsby, Executive Director of Dark Horse and Jen Sumner, Artistic Director of Hubbub theatre with an idea for a project which explored, celebrated and promoted the work of these producers and influencers as broadly as possible.

The aim was for me to shoot and edit a thirty minute film featuring rehearsal room footage, interview the directors and key actors from each organisation and to write and publish a report which would be sent to decision making individuals, programmers, venues and influencers.

All directors generously let me loose in their rehearsal rooms to explore the silent approach and I had four fascinating days with four very different and very talented ensembles, working non verbally.

Actors Richard Newham, Imogen Roberts, Joe Sproulle, Beth Gardner and Amy Scott spoke on camera about their training, work and hopes for future opportunities and the finished report and film met with interest and engagement in pockets of the wider theatre industry totally unfamiliar with the level of acumen, ability and focus on excellence that there can be within companies in this field of work.

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Dark Horse actor Joe Sproulle during his interview. Teeth marks on paper Directors own.

Casting, production and further opportunities are developing as a direct result of the project, the film is viewed frequently and the report has reached significant areas.

It became evident from early in in the year that a second project, the development of a new piece of integrated (Featuring a cast of learning disabled and non learning disabled actors) text based theatre, a new play, could be of value moving forwards.

In my own theatre writing, at Dark Horse in recent years, I’ve developed and written roles for actors with learning disabilities, the aim being to generate working opportunities in the context of general drama that plays out to audiences in theatre venues.

I’ve also been instrumental in developing actor training opportunities that enable integrated casts to work together, using the silent approach as a technique and incorporating Stanislavskian/Strasbergian method so that everyone can work in the same rehearsal room, on the same play, for the same audience.

The aim has been and continues to be to create a means for a new generation of actors, directors and writers to work together with equality, to make new high profile, high quality pieces of new writing and to be excited and interested in engaging with this work.

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Access All Areas actor Imogen Roberts and Artistic Director Nick Lewellyn

A MAN WITH DOWNS’ SYNDROME TALKS ABOUT LOVE AND TELLS A STORY is a new play.

I wrote the first draft in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote in a coshed England and at its heart is a dark howl. And that’s enough of that for now.

It’s a drama, pitched towards a general audience with leading roles for actors with learning disabilities and a female actor in her thirties and this autumn I ran three research and development events at the New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich, York Theatre Royal, The Lowry Salford.

Working with Dark Horse theatre, their ensemble and leading actors Joe Sproulle, Toby Meredith and Rebekah Hill the events pulled an exciting creative team together for the first time. Composer Loz Kaye, Designer Pip Leckenby and movement director Ita O’Brien worked with actor Tessa Parr and the ensemble to engage over 75 people with learning disabilities in the three locations, exploring the story and characters and, vitally, recording the voice and opinion of everyone who attended for insertion in the production score.

The results are absolutely stunning and the play will tour nationally next year.

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Movement director Ita O’Brien at the Lowry event

There have been some fine pieces of work made by companies which work with actors with learning disabilities this year and some fine performances also by the actors themselves on stage, television and film.  However as challenging times challenge more than ever before to assume that previous wins and progress already made will guarantee ongoing visibility may be unwise.

Instinct, experience and some insight suggests the opposite may be true and that consistent and constant championing of excellence, quality, training and opportunity will be crucial in the year ahead.

I’ve worked with some brilliant people this year, thank you, and some fantastic venues and Arts Council England have supported the work.

One day I’ll finish the novel.

But not yet.

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