August 2015

Cultural equality

One of our commitments on the Cultural Shift Programme is to make one community production per year with Full Circle Theatre Company. Full Circle Ensemble of learning disabled actors have been based at ARC for a number of years, and have received ad hoc creative support to develop their work. Little Cog worked with them last year to develop their first collaboration on a devised piece of work called The Lab. The company are supported by Stockton Adult Services, and are committed to presenting completely original work which they have created themselves. They explored a lot of physical and visual theatre techniques and decided that they wanted to do a non-verbal show, except for a film led narrative to bring the audience through their story. We had already done some research and development, and some further skills development, and we were all set to begin work on a new piece called Los Muertos, which was set against the backdrop of the Mexican Day of the Dead. The group explored ideas around forbidden and lost love, dark forces and people with power and how they use it and how we say goodbye when we have to. Despite the dark elements, the ensemble is committed to incorporating important elements of learning disability culture: music, movement, visual story-telling, colourful lighting and lots of surprises. Their show was programmed to be performed on 4 November in the main theatre, which was perfect timing seasonally.

The world of learning disability is in flux for many people as there are so many changes to services and benefits across the country. This brings with it some uncertainty and anxiety. Mencap did a piece of research in 2012 called ‘Stuck at Home’ which revealed that many learning disabled people felt unfulfilled and did not have access to many activities outside their home. It was estimated that 25% of learning disabled adults spend less than one hour outside their home each day. Many learning disabled adults and advocacy campaigners have fought to have the voices of learning disabled adults heard. It is essential that we create opportunities for this to happen, on the terms of learning disabled people, and ensure that their creativity, contribution and culture is visible. Learning disabled people, among many others, have told us that they want to be involved in the arts because of how it makes them feel: valued; included; like they are contributing; confident; happy; strong; like a giant; fulfilled; self-advocacy; representatives.

We explored lots of physical theatre, mask work and non-verbal storytelling techniques, and the group felt confident to experiment with new ideas.