We should be so lucky…

4 attendees of the event during a discussion

Jo Verrent reports on the recent Disability and mainstream performance in the North event, hosted at The Point, Doncaster last Friday…

Last Friday, John R. Wilkinson charted the steps that have taken him to his current role – Associate Artist at York Theatre Royal. He’s been lucky to meet the right people, get the right mentors and link up with a theatre that truly believes in inclusive practice. But as he says, it shouldn’t be a matter of luck. Any disabled creative – performer, writer, director, designer, curator, artist (add all to the list) should be able to get into the arts and onto the career ladder in exactly the same ways as their non-disabled peers. But they can’t. Not yet.

3 attendees of the event during a discussion

He was speaking at an event focusing on disability and mainstream performance in the North organised by Andrew Loretto and Right Up Our Street and funded by Unlimited Impact and hosted by darts. The event is kicking off a small project that aims to convene a series of conversations, bringing together disabled artists, artistic leaders, producers and Executive/Artistic Directors to focus on work for Northern stages – and in particular the lack of disabled people directly engaged in that work.

It’s timely, as Guardian Cultural Professionals report on the increases in disabled audiences for theatre, there seems to be a corresponding lack of diversity across the board in terms of who is making and performing work on our stages themselves. Yet the work is out there. All the work selected by BAC for the BBC FOUR On Stage: Live from Television Centre has diversity at its heart (including a new version of that Unlimited-linked popular ‘classic’ by Jess Thom – Broadcast in Biscuit Land!)

Kiruna Stamell and Jo Verrent during a discussion

The project was based on a similar project Unlimited undertook earlier in the year with London Theatre Consortium – which is already starting to have some real impacts (watch this space for news in the new year). The right people were in the room: alongside a host of top notch disability talent – including Ali Briggs, Kiruna Stamell, Dan Edge, Vici Wreford-Sinnott and representatives from Mind the Gap, Dark Horse, Little Cog, DaDaFest, Rich Seam, Lip Service, Lawnmowers, Music and the Deaf, Instant Dissidence, the Level Centre and more, there was representation from many of the North’s best receiving and producing venues and companies – Nottingham Playhouse, Northern Stage, York Theatre Royal, Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester, Octagon Theatre, Derby Theatre, Sheffield Theatres, ARC Stockton, Slung Low, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Cast Doncaster and Third Angel.

A number of those venues will be organizing ‘tea and cake’ sessions to follow up – real opportunities for their artistic and production staff to have serious conversations with disabled creatives about how they commission work, cast performances, engage their creative teams and what barriers they feel are in place that stop disabled people from getting involved. If there are other disabled creatives based in the North who are interested, do get in touch so we can add you to the list of possible people to attend these intimate sessions, especially from the North West as that area is currently under-represented (contact us at Unlimited and we’ll put you in touch – info@unlimited.org.uk

2 attendees of the event during a discussion

The biggest discussion of the day was how to move from theory into action – all the theatres in attendance recognized that there were barriers in place and many felt they needed to be more proactive, responsive and committed. As Ruth Gould, Director of DaDaFest said in her provocation at the beginning of the day, perhaps the answer is simple – Just do it?

NB: If you are reading this and wonder why it was only an event focusing on performance, then why not contact us and perhaps we can start a new discussion? Unlimited Impact has a small team – and we support others to take action where we can. So far, it’s the performing arts sector that has come to us to take a lead in this debate – so where are the galleries, the live music events, the outdoor festivals or the digital arts schemes wanting to start the discourse? Do get in touch…

“I was delighted at the level of response we achieved from senior theatre practitioners wanting to attend the Unlimited event in Doncaster. Theatre makers from across the broad ‘North’ who wish to meaningfully commit to change in the mainstream have hopefully inspired and challenged each other to impact on creative thinking and working practices” – Andrew Loretto, Creative Producer, Right Up Our Street

Photographer: Les Monaghan