Stomping Ground – Significant Artistic Dreams Coming True as the Company Prepares for SIRF

A scene from dress rehearsals. Most of the actors are seated and one is standing, holding a clock face with Roman numerals on it. All the actors are dressed in black and white, and there is a black and white striped umbrella at the back of the set, with white hat stands along each side.

It’s been an emotional week – anyone involved in theatre knows how much we invest personally and emotionally into the work we share with the world. I think that’s partly because we want it to make a difference in some way – we want audiences to love it, to be entertained and surprised, and to want more. If you’ve followed Full Circle’s journey over the last two and a half years, you’ll know we were commissioned to make a show for Stockton International Riverside Festival just before the pandemic hit, creating great uncertainty and jeopardy about what the future could hold for the company of learning disabled artists. Long story short, Little Cog, ARC Stockton and Arts Council England committed to supporting the group’s work, we discovered Zoom and got devising.

Our first in person rehearsals earlier this year felt like a risk, from a safety angle, but were incredible and the energy of dedication and determination from all has carried us through. Social distancing, hand gel, mask wearing and daily LFT testing have been the norm of our world. And yesterday we held our indoor dress rehearsal, prior to heading over to our purpose built outdoor site next week.

We love the design of our show, largely black and white, with flecks of colour when needed, and are so grateful to our brilliant production designer Kim McDermottroe of Greener Lavelle. She came into our process, the first time the group have used a designer from outside our immediate group, and she was wonderful talking and listening to the group, to the ideas, and making them come to life in both 2D and 3D – you’ll have to come to see the show to know what that means!

Once theatre lighting hits your set, the real magic of pulling everything together happens – it does when you have Nick Hare designing lights. And we have our wonderful soundtrack from Callum Rattray which runs the entirety of the show, holding everything together.

One of the biggest challenges in Stomping Ground are the scene changes which are an act of choreography in themselves, and integral part of the smooth running of the show, but something to be barely noticed. Our team of on-stage support, Max, Alex and Ruth have been simply amazing as we try, try and try again to make things as seamless as possible.

The decision we took to hold the show at 9.10pm was a risky one – it protects the integrity of who Full Circle are as a company – we requested an after-dark slot because of the unique artistic visions of this company. We are making a clear statement that learning disabled people are part of this world and have a right to be included in a large scale festival on their terms and we can only hope the decision-makers in other learning disabled people’s lives will see this as a special occasion worthy of one late night in the year. Come early, bring a picnic chair and some nibbles and stake a claim on public space. Make an event of it. These actors and this show are worth it. I promise you.

And the actors themselves continue to amaze us – this means so much to them. All this time, all this work and this significant piece of work fitting into the Stockton International Riverside Festival world, lesser told stories by lesser heard people, feels massive. All supported by our producers at ARC – huge, huge thanks to Chloe Lawrence, ARC’s Programmes Manager for literally everything. My heart swelled with pride as I watched them do their dress rehearsal yesterday – this is their story, this is what happened to them and this colourful, intimate, funny, moving piece of work is their artistic dream. Thank you to SIRF for programming us – we’re unbelievably excited to be part of this new family.

Fri 5 and Sat 6 August, 9.10pm (PLUS a free workshop at 3pm on Sat 6 Aug), Parliament Street, Trinity Green.

BSL interpreted by Sue Lee and integrated stage text.