I’m generally an easy-going sort of person but had someone told me 20 years ago I’d be doing a stage-swordfighting workshop with young autistic, celebral palsy and Downs actors I’d have told them to hie them somewhere they could get stuffed. Then again, I didn’t really understand then how pointless such labels are, that all they do is present odds that young people resolutely defy. Teacher training and mainstream education does little to dispel such nonsense.My second son (after a miraculous daughter) was born 8 years ago and we were scared with lots of labels including Edward’s syndrome. He has had numerous heart surgeries that are part of a big condition roughly pigeonholing him into a box marked ‘Dandy Walker complex’. He has defied all expectations and wins surprise and amazement; he has made me a much better person. And I went and developed a number of symptoms labelled Multiple Sclerosis.
Over the next few years I lost my job and put my family through difficulties that are the stuff of awful kitchen sink dramas. All along my goddess wife encouraged and reminded me that I was capable of more than spasticism and failure; I always went on about my years spent in professional theatre doing workshops and producing plays. Why didn’t I do something like that? With young people who really needed that experience?
The idea stuck. I really wanted to get young people on stage in a spotlight working towards a show. Young people ridiculously labelled as ‘Disabled’, like my shining son. In my 17 years teaching, putting on shows has proven the very best sort of education – shy withdrawn pupils grow in confidence and pride overnight. It’s magical, really. And I was lucky enough to have an upbringing and school that encouraged a love of rather than boredom with Shakespeare.
For some time I’d been thinking of a professional show based on a sort of Shakespeare casserole – that idea was dusted off when it occurred to me that Shakespeare was a brilliant way into stagecraft, exploring and revealing emotion and all that. So that’s what we’d do. A proper show, with lights and a paying audience – but not in school setting. A real theatre.
Shakespeare was aMidlandsman, so am I. I taught inStratforduponAvonand I was married within reach of the famous tomb in Holy Trinity – so obviously I’m qualified…
The first workshop we did was based on Prospero’s final Tempest speech where he forgives with messianic gravity. I asked this group of young people who had suffered outrageous slings and arrows to take the stage and say who and if they’d forgive. Heartstopping results.
That Shakespeare has given us so many windows to open. Watch this space.
(photos kindly supplied by Leicester Mercury)