The long and bumpy road

Maria Vaccarella, academic lead on Staging Transitions, a collaborative project with inclusive theatre company FaceFront and the Cultural Institute at King’s, reflects on her progress in bringing a new, inclusive theatre performance to the stage.

A big red cardboard bus carries the characters in It’s My Move! from one scene to the other: it’s a vivid metaphor of the ‘bumpy ride’ towards adulthood for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities (LDD). Rather than being an ordinary, everyday event, jumping on a London bus on his own was the immediate, tangible sign of independence for one LDD teenager we interviewed for Staging Transitions.

What became clear in our preparatory interviews with LDD teenagers in transition was that, despite a widespread call for transition planning to be ‘person-centred’, young people feel disempowered – faced with overwhelming, often rushed, information sessions and overprotective parents, teachers and carers. The play we’re developing thematises all these issues: its very title – the exclamatory ‘It’s my move!’ – emblematically focuses on the need to acknowledge the budding independence of young LDD people, as they prepare to leave special schools and children’s services. In order to ensure the play is a genuine and useful reflection of the transition to adulthood, LDD artists were extensively involved in the creation of the play, from the original soundtrack to set design, script writing to choreography.

FaceFront Theatre

FaceFront Theatre

Over the last few months, FaceFront facilitators and artists have brought the play to special schools and involved pupils by means of improvisation exercises to practice their self-advocacy skills. Our interventions were in line with Davis and Behm’s definition of creative drama intervention as ‘an improvisational, non-exhibitional, process-centered form of drama in which participants are guided by a leader to imagine, enact, and reflect upon human experience’.1 We hosted one of these research and development exercises at King’s last month, bringing together colleagues from across departments, transition professionals and arts practitioners to witness the lively interaction between FaceFront artists and LDD pupils from Samuel Rhodes School in Islington.

Coming from a medical humanities background, I’m aware of the successful inclusion of performance studies in medical education, but what our project demonstrates is the potential to use performance in patient education as well, and not only in a strictly clinical or medicalised environment. It’s My Move! explores LDD people’s hopes and fears around their transition into adulthood by setting up a creative arena that by definition will yield much more nuanced responses than any ordinary research questionnaire. Inclusive theatre projects are also a great way of exploring what disability studies scholar Rosemarie Garland Thompson calls ‘the giftedness of disability.’2 Opening up to LDD people’s non-normative approaches to reality and moving away from normalising aesthetic tendencies could also enrich current theatrical practice, as well as expand our notion of what constitutes a successful performance on stage and beyond.

Staging Transitions is looking at new ways to help young people with learning difficulties and disabilities (LDD) handle the transition to adulthood.

1Davis, J. H., & Behm, T. (1987). “Appendix 1: Terminology of drama/theatre with and for children: A redefinition”. In J. H. Davis & M. J. Evans (Eds.), Theatre, Children and Youth (pp. 265–269). New Orleans, LA: Anchorage, p. 262.

2Garland-Thomson, R. (2012). “The case for conserving disability”. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, 9(3), 339-355: 354.

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