Making things happen: the right people in the right place

Why do our main stages have so few disabled people on them? For ‘on them’, read performing on them, writing for them, directing for them, producing for them. In fact, as the number of disabled people on TV creeps up thanks in no small part to the BBC’s commitment to increasing representation (and their commitment to challenging the narratives of disability), the equivalent shift within performing arts feels out of reach, despite a number of pushes and prods.

But the creative demand on the sector is there. The Unlimited panelists are currently wading through an unprecedented 162 applications for funds from artists and companies across England, Scotland and Wales. There are 53 applications for visual arts, 41 for theatre, 14 for dance, 13 for music, ten for literature and 31 ‘other’, showing that the creativity and control is out there. So why are we seeing so little of it on our main stages?

This week there is a gathering at the Donmar Warehouse to look at this afresh. In itself this is not new or unique but maybe this time we can find a way to make a difference – and make it stick. At Unlimited, we realise that it’s people who make things happen. Therefore until you can meet the people who make things happen, not much is going to change. That’s why we’ve teamed up with London Theatre Consortium (LTC).

Keeping it real

LTC is a small network with big influence: it’s made up of real people with real power in some of the most influential theatres across London. They’ve suggested that one of the reasons behind things moving so slowly is the lack of direct face to face conversations between disabled writers, directors, actors and producers with those who make casting, creative and artistic decisions within the theatres. All to often ‘disability’ gets linked to ‘access’, so gets shuffled down the line to fit in boxes labeled ‘audiences’ and ‘education’ rather than ‘creativity’ or ‘control’. It’s seen as problematic or polemic, meaning it doesn’t get much of a look in aesthetically.

Our solution? To partner with LTC to curate a series of conversations between key artistic theatre staff and disabled artists, fuelled by tea and cake. The first conversation is this Thursday and the series will culminate in a bigger event on the 29 April. The conversations (and cake) are both the smallest elements and the most important. They aren’t about numbers, but are about opening up to honest and deep engagement. Overcoming political correctness, making connections and looking for positive ways forward – acknowledging that just because something seems hard, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be tackled.

This isn’t about getting huge numbers of people in the room, it’s about getting enough of the right people in the room to make a difference.

Get involved

We are tight for space at these events (we’ve have had a battle to squeeze in all the people on the original wish list) but everyone can still get involved. Email me directly and put forward your perspective: joverrent@weareunlimited.org.uk

And there are other ways to be the right person in the right place of course. If you’re an independent producer (or if you know one), we need you. Our Assistant Producer Clara recently wrote of her concern about the scarcity of disabled producers. In direct response to it, we are looking to support a small number of independent producers and/or production companies to work with and mentor a young disabled person (16-26) to give them their first foot on the ladder of this exciting and creative career path.

If this sounds like something you’d love to do, you will need to:

  • Have already identified a young disabled person who would benefit from tailored mentoring sessions
  • Be able to undertake a series of shadowing days and / or mentoring sessions between April 2015 – Sept 2016
  • Help us to record and promote your partnership and your learning

In return you can access a small grant of up to £1,000 to cover administration costs, expenses and access requirements for your selected mentee.

Interested? Then contact Fiona Slater at fiona@shaparts.org.uk or 0207 424 7366 to find out more.

Photo of Katherine Araniello’s The Dinner Party Revisited at Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Festival 2014, by Rachel Cherry for Unlimited.

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