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The Keepers explores what it’s like to have no voice and few choices, cleverly looking into the places we are all given in society.
The actors were inspired by a book called ‘No Going Back’, where a group of learning disabled storytellers looked into the experiences of disabled people and wanted to tell the stories to make sure they weren’t forgotten. This really struck a chord with Full Circle actors and devisers, who are just the same, having spent 9 years developing their own unique style of theatre and being committed to ensuring that learning disabled people are visible in both our communities and also in wider society.
The Keepers was a real consolidation of the recent work of the company and the opportunity to collaborate with an experienced disabled theatre professional. They have explored and developed a unique style of theatre which absolutely suits the communication requirements of the company members, and many of their peers, and combined it with lighting, music, sound track and atmosphere drawn directly from contemporary learning disability culture. The work is colourful, sensory, passionate, and carefully brings pace and action shared with more reflective episodes to suit its community.
The ensemble drew on all of the development from each of their last three productions, looking at how to accessibly both devise and create a story ensuring the contributions of all members are evident in the final piece, that everyone knows what they have put in is an essential creative part of the overall, and that the highly visual physical style continues to develop and become refined skilfully.
It is certainly the piece which has caused the greatest impact on its creators and its audience to date. On the day of performance there was an electric buzz in the venue after the show and we have had so many positive comments, still coming in now, confirming to us what a vital role an independent Full Circle has in Stockton’s cultural landscape, with independence bringing so many untold new possibilities to this amazing group of actors.
“I thought the lady with the petals was outstanding. Very powerful performance”
“Strong message, performed with passion”
“Very emotional and moving”
“The performances were fantastic and the set was beautiful, it conveyed a really important message”
“It was fantastic!”
“The performance made me feel moved in their experience”
“Lovely poignancy and emotion”
“Disabled people need more support in Britain”
“Liked giving people a voice”
“Liked Seeing people we know acting”
“Made me feel good and positive”
The Story of Full Circle
Full Circle started in 2008 as part of Stockton Council’s Adult Services department. They were described as a ‘community hub’ as services expanded to enable people more choices in how they spent their time. The group was supported by two day service staff with no drama experience but lots of enthusiasm. They worked in, an often drafty, community centre with a recurring leak in the roof.
With eight members, their resolve was solid and they experimented with small drama games, film-making and short scenes within the scope of the two support workers. They visited ARC, liked it and wondered if there might be some space for them somewhere in the building. A relationship grew from this encounter and the group took up residence five days per week. Funding was raised, through ARC, to work with a drama facilitator and the group performed their first show, Changes, in the studio space at ARC.
Full Circle were approached by Vici Wreford-Sinnott, Artistic Director of Little Cog, as disabled-led company who also have a specialism in learning disability theatre. Vici offered the group some free drama sessions as part of a project she was running called Love and Hate in the Tees Valley, and they just clicked artistically. Vici could see the potential of the group and Full Circle had clear aspirations for growth – for new skills and to perform on a bigger stage. Together they applied for Arts Council funding for one collaborative production, and five years and four productions later they are still collaborating, and making unique, accessible work which brings large groups of learning disabled and non-learning disabled people into ARC’s main theatre to see them bring the stage alive.
In addition to the creation of new work by learning disabled people, and bringing in new audiences, including large numbers of learning disabled people to see work with relevance to them, the company also deliver outreach workshops to learning disabled peers. This both ensures that what they are doing is current and engaging but also increases opportunities for learning disabled people to build their confidence, increase communication and social skills and to be part of something bigger than themselves which is life-enhancing and enriching, knowing that they have a place and are valued.
“I want to show people what we can do – had never done drama before coming here”
“I feel happier in myself as I feel like I belong and have found a role”
“I feel beautiful in my costume”
“I want to be with other learning disabled people learning new stuff”
Full Cirlce Members
The road to independence
From 1 April 2018 Full Circle will run independent of Adult day services, and will be funded by Arts Council England.