Los Muertos is a reference to the Mexican Day of the Dead, a celebration and tribute to those who have gone before us. It’s an exciting theatrical vehicle of course, it’s lively, has an amazing soundtrack, is colourful and party-like. As a piece of theatre which relates to learning disability culture it is highly visual, is a celebration, a bringing together of a community and provides references to the soundtrack of peoples’ lives – in the devising process there have been some instantly recognisable party tracks that people often suggest, part of the cultural furniture from discos and parties. And then there have been some complete surprises – tunes which have filtered through, Hip Hop, Grunge, Goth and Latin American beats to which people just ‘feel’ how to move. I have to say it’s been a lot of fun so far. We work hard but we do laugh a lot too. I love my job.
But it is also taking us to fascinating levels of exploration. We’re looking at a fairly simple narrative, the devisers want a mix of spooky stuff, a sprinkling of love and loss, real pathos for troubled souls who cannot move forward due to one barrier or another, and some real dramatic tension. Members of the group really want to surprise people who come to see their show and so this means we’re involved in a really creative devising process. For our last production, The Lab, in addition to physical theatre, digital images and a pumping soundscape we used masks, and Los Muertos allows us to return to this technique to explore it further. The performers had a real affinity with mask and physical theatre. They want to create interesting characters with interesting stories. They are not necessarily exploring the experience of being disabled people in terms of a ‘message’ for the piece but they are working in ways that are absolutely about communicating disability identity through culture. And, like all disabled artists, because of our lived experiences, it is inevitable that we draw on from a disability palette which informs the work on a number of levels. There are great subtleties at play here too.
It’s brilliant to be so supported by ARC Stockton, a thriving arts centre in Stockton-On-Tees, North East England, with whom Little Cog, the theatre company I founded in 2011, have developed a strategic partnership to increase opportunities for disabled artists and for disabled people to be able to take part in high quality arts activity and to work in disabled-led ways. There is a real momentum to our work in the Tees Valley and we are developing really interesting, new models of creative practice and new art works to provide platforms for the voices of disabled people in the arts, so that we can have a more complete cultural landscape, which includes the voices and identities of learning disabled people, not just as project participants but as artists. (It was suggested by one anonymous mainstream organisation that they would not programme the work of learning disabled performers due to poor quality, [Brighton Creative Minds Conference], and that anything of higher quality has been made where learning disabled people were merely ‘participants’ ie not leaders/creatives ).
Our work is part of a movement and strong tradition of theatre created by learning disabled people and we want our work to be part of the critical dialogue about learning disability theatre, and also to be part of the debate. If you want to know more about our work please contact me by email at email@example.com
‘Los Muertos’ is the working title of a new piece of theatre being created between myself and Full Circle Theatre Group, a company of theatre-makers with learning disabilities. Our priorities are to make an excellent piece of theatre which questions commonly held perceptions of learning disabled artists, and one which reflects the identities and culture of those making the work. We’re all extending our skills and raising our ambitions. Last year we devised a science fiction adventure called ‘The Lab’ where we invited our audiences to visit Compound 49 to witness a unique experiment. It was the first time that Full Circle had performed in the large theatre space in ARC Stockton, and for the first time, presented their work to an evening audience as well as a day time audience. Audience numbers were fantastic and the response to the standard of the work was amazing. Really positive feedback all round. So this year again, we’re ‘upping our game’. We’d like to do a mini tour but this raises all sorts of questions to which we don’t yet have all the answers. I’ll write more about this on another occasion.