Performers Being Themselves

Special People Creating Special Performance

Elixir Festival

Mats Ek and Ana Kaguna at the Elixir Festival (Picture: Stephanie Berger)

Last week I was at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London seeing performances at Elixir Festival. Brilliant performances by some amazing people.

Joan Hewson is 96. She sits on a chair with her stick and then she moves gently with delicate grace with her partner. Her movements and smiles touched my heart. I imagined what her long life might have been and I see her now, in that moment, as a beautiful expressive performer telling us her story through the way she moves.

The night before I had watched some dancers from my past. Retired dancers from London Contemporary Dance Company, and other companies, who are now in their 60’s and 70’s were back on stage, telling their stories through small anecdotes projected on the wall behind them as they dance.

I have long been excited by performers presenting themselves on stage. I am a believer in the principle that audiences/spectators like to see who the performer is, as much as ‘what they do’ on stage. Dancers dance, but in doing so they reveal a lot about themselves. We see them as people first and performers second.

Mind the Gap

Last week I was also in the rehearsal rooms of Mind the Gap Ensemble  in Bradford watching rehearsals for their new show ‘Trickster’ a co-production with That’s Life, a group of people ‘with intellectual disabilities creating art & celebrating life’.

I have long been an admirer of the work created by Mind the Gap. I can’t remember the first show that I saw of theirs, it was many years ago, but I do remember their brilliant production of ‘Of Mice and Men’ in a studio theatre in Bradford.  I felt moved and inspired by the work.

photo credit

Mind the Gap ‘Of Mice and Men’ (photo Tim Mitchell)

The performers gave performances of such depth – Seeing that production made me realise the major reason I make theatre. For me it always starts from my interest in the performer, first as a person and secondly what they do.

It does not matter to me whether they are ‘professional’, ‘amateur ‘ or ‘community participant’, ‘able bodied’ or ‘with learning or intellectual disability’, ‘an older performer’ – I wish we could get rid of these labels.

When I watch theatre I just want to feel connected and lost in the moment. Sometimes to be moved and sometimes to laugh and to learn and simply enjoy the theatrical experience.

The Elixir Festival, the rehearsal with Mind the Gap last week and ‘Of Mice and Men’ many years ago are all examples of a type of theatre that is becoming more popular with audiences/spectators. I am happy this is the case.

However Mind the Gap is still not well known by general audiences.  It is an award–winning company that works with learning disabled and non-disabled artists as equals. Based in Bradford, West Yorkshire, it has flourished as one of the UK’s leading disability-related theatre companies, placing a strong emphasis on outstanding drama and not disability.

Last week it was announced that Tim Wheeler, co-founder and Artistic Director of Mind the Gap has resigned from the company.

In 2003 I asked Tim and the Mind the Gap Ensemble to make a co-production with the Northern Stage Ensemble. We decided to create a new version of ‘Don Quixote’ adapted by Mike Kenny, and it toured to 18 venues across UK to great critical acclaim. Tim and I became good friends and I have been loosely involved with the company, over the years, since that time.

'Irresistible' (photo Tim Mitchell)

‘Irresistible’ (photo Tim Mitchell)

Not long ago I saw their production of ‘Irresistible’ , an energetic and entertaining live event combining music, theatre and sirens. It was performed as part of  the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games celebrations and has gone on to tour nationally and internationally. ‘Irresistible’ was a change in direction for the company. The idea was sparked by the creative mind of Jez Colborne, an accomplished actor, musician, performer – and fantastic siren impersonator – who has worked with Tim for many years. Jez has a condition called Williams syndrome where one of the benefits is that he has perfect pitch. He is an extraordinary performer and has been an important part of Mind the Gap

Tim and his colleagues have created a great company and I hope, that with him leaving, it will not cause too much disruption. Their work deserves to be seen it the mainstream cultural institutions where it still finds it difficult to get bookings

‘Irresistible’ played outside the National Theatre in London in 2012. Hopefully it will not be long before they are seen inside the building.

The last words are from Tim …

‘Mind the Gap is not a therapeutic organisation. Where our interest lies is in the unique stories and unique perspectives and looking at ways to spread its message in the artistic and theatrical sector.

We’re not just interested in the stories of people with learning disabilities we are also interested in the creation and development of ideas’

Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler