At Separate Doors our mission is to increase the representation of people with learning disabilities in theatre, film and TV. At the centre of everything we do is our methodology, the Silent Approach – a way of working without too many words which brings equality for those of us who struggle with reading and with speech. We work across the UK and we make theatre, we run workshops, we consult for others, and we produce pamphlets and reports. And last week we had a residency at the Level Centre, in Rowsley, Derbyshire.
The Level Centre is an Arts Council National Portfolio organisation and a base and platform for artistic work which challenges traditional ideas of culture. The Level Centre has a particular objective to create opportunities for people with learning disabilities. We were absolutely delighted to be invited to be resident artists – it felt like a perfect marriage for us.
I travelled to the Peak District in the middle of Storm Franklin and spent the first day of the residency unable to reach the Centre due to the floods!
However, being away from base and having time and space to think meant I was able to create our stimulus film for the week – and a shape for the beginnings of our next performance project, HOTEL.
I pulled down video files and created a soundtrack and edited together the four minute film. At Separate Doors we make a lot of these short films.
The films serve as communicators of concept to actors who can’t or don’t like to read scripts of briefs and are a visual and visceral starting point, its a way into the theatre-making process for those of us who like to explore with our eyes and ears.
This is the film I put together on day one – in my windy cottage in Winster:
Thankfully on day two the weather lifted. This allowed me to drive again and I was amazed to see (now the wind and haze had gone) the beautiful town of Matlock in the deep cleft of a rugged gorge – the river raging on the left of me. Then an extraordinary journey down Via Gellia road, the river to my left and huge dancing trees on either side of the Valley. The work we’re developing is all about escape and finding a safe haven from an unwelcoming world so this introduction to the landscape felt perfect. Opening out into the wide river delta leading up into Rowsley I felt a real sense of finding space to ‘be’ – at the Level Centre, our home for the week.
I met Emma and Kyla – who made me very welcome – and saw me into the most fantastic space – for us as a theatre company, the perfect rehearsal space. The Level Centre is spare and minimalist and calm – and very accessible.
Next door to us in another space we experienced a wonderful installation IN THE MIX by Darius Powell and on the walls in the hallway powerful photographs SICK-GAZE, by Bella Millroy.
Both Laura and Kyla heard many delighted sounds from us during the work. Its so rare to find an uncluttered and well-equipped rehearsal space and we settled into our work very quickly.
I had a Zoom meeting with our Director of Sound Loz Kaye (Manchester to Matlock was too much of a challenge to travel to in the storm) and we explored the soundscape and influences for the score for HOTEL. At Separate Doors we always start with structure and sound and music and we discussed ideas around hotel lounge music, percussion and plans for the shape of the piece.
I laid out our props across the floor and in the afternoon actor – and advisory board member – Joe Sproulle came in to work on some movement ideas. Joe and I have an established working relationship, we brain-stormed some thoughts on the perfect hotel and then he worked with some props.
The Silent Approach is based on Stanislavskian method and endowing objects is a central part of our work.
In our next stage of development for HOTEL we plan to work with some key props and this was a start to that journey.
On day three I had a day on my own in the space to achieve two objectives, firstly to develop a story structure for the piece and secondly (with executive and producers hats on) to frame budget and schedule for the project HOTEL will sit within – Directing Tomorrow’s Theatre. Having achieved both of these things I set off to the station to pick up Faye Billing, our Director of Creative Learning.
Our advisory board guide all of our work and on day four we held a zoom meeting with them, presenting our work and asking for ideas around our concept.
Nicky Priest, Rebekah Hill and Sam Barnard gave great feedback and we will incorporate their ideas into the work moving forwards.
We left the Level Centre so grateful and happy for the opportunity to have dedicated research and development time in such a wonderful space. The team, led by Executive Director Kerry Andrews couldn’t have been more supportive or keyed into our work and what we want to achieve with, and for, people with learning disabilities and neurodivergencies.
We look forward to returning to the Level Centre with our (cross UK) national ensemble of actors with and without learning disabilities and to building our next major project in the heart of the Peak District.