Vanessa Brooks has worked with Hubbub Theatre Company as Associate Producer and mentor since 2015. Her input has made a huge impact on the organisational development and creative output of the company, securing Elevate funding and moving us onwards in our ambitions for actors with learning disabilities. Vanessa has exceptional knowledge of the sector and also the challenges and opportunities for a small theatre company to thrive and grow, whilst retaining values and artistic vision. She is clear, challenging and supportive in her mentoring approach and has been of such value to me as an Artistic Director, and our company in these early stages of development.
I have found Vanessa Brooks’ mentoring invaluable bedding in as Artistic Director of Arts Council NPO More Music. Her combination of organisational knowledge and artistic vision is a great combination for sparring about ideas. She knows the right questions to ask, when to push and when to support.
Vanessa’s keynote speech at my Hand in Hand? Writing and performance-making in Learning Disability Theatre conference at Essex University (July 2018) was remarkable. Entertaining, provocative, informative and brave, she set exactly the right tone for the highly engaging and nuanced discussion which followed- and watching Vanessa in action recently during her Silent Approach master class, with Dark Horse actors and non-learning disabled actors, was a treat. Her highly skilled, intuitive style and her understanding of what makes integration work is both impressive and enlightening. Her dedication to creating a level playing field on which both learning -disabled and non-learning disabled actors can shine together is inspiring.
Vanessa Brooks’ silent approach to rehearsal process comes close to extraordinary. I urge all theatre folks to engage yourself somehow with her practice, its a force for changing representation on our stages.
I was very impressed by Vanessa Brooks’ silent approach. Clearly, its application has been persuasively demonstrated in creating general audience work with actors with learning disabilities. Its applicable where a learning disabled actor is part of a piece of conventional drama in theatre, radio, television or film. Everyone working in the making of drama should see the silent approach in action and those that have the range of skills required- should then learn it.
What’s extraordinary about Vanessa Brooks’ silent approach is that it seems imbued with a great tenderness. Direction feels like suggestion – it’s firm, but it’s patient, and by putting the ‘play’ back into rehearsal it encourages the actor to feel that the process is one of sharing. There’s a generosity here – both with the actors and director freely giving to each other, and also with the actors freely giving to the audience. I saw actors learn to take full possession of the roles they were playing with a greater sense of pride, even joy. Its a reminder of what theatre is all about – not putting up barriers of understanding, but instead offering an invitation to see the world from a new perspective.
Vanessa Brooks has created a truly integrated rehearsal process for learning disabled and non learning disabled actors with her Silent Approach, which achieves high quality results. Through her game-changing Separate Doors research projects she has worked tirelessly to open out this process to other organisations and industry professionals across the UK to interrogate actor training and to make sure that learning disabled actors are represented in mid-scale touring work. Taking part in two of her Silent Approach rehearsals I have seen first-hand how beautifully she holds the space and works completely non-verbally in a rigorous, effective process, where there is such an intense level of focus as well as a safe space to create and be playful. I would love to see this approach used more widely. There are some incredible tools from this approach which can be adapted to fit with directors existing processes to make sure that rehearsal rooms are more accessible and that directors feel confident that they can fully support an integrated company – to make sure all actors are getting the most from the process, and make sure that the work created is properly representative of the UK population. The theatre industry is still a long way behind where it should be in terms of representation and here’s hoping we can all take note of this incredible work and incorporate it within our own practice, our own organisations, so that in time there can be a step change across the industry as a whole.
Watching the silent rehearsal process was nothing less than revelatory – displaying equal parts compassion and control, director Vanessa Brooks has unlocked the magic of theatre for a whole generation of performers who might otherwise not have been given such a wonderful gift. To see that work in development after having seen Vanessa’s peerless Hypothermia in 2011 is testament to what can be achieved. The process makes the work seem effortless. If I wasn’t excited by what might come next I’d be jealous to death!