Imaginate and Birds of Paradise Theatre Company (BOP) are working together on an exciting new commission for 2021, the first stage of which was a residency with Pilrig Park School in 2019 to explore material with the pupils there. These are the reflections of Artistic Director, Robert Gale, on what they learned from this time.
Before going in to Pilrig Park School, I knew that I wanted to investigate disability identity in young people and what it means to be a disabled young person today . However these are quite complex ideas and I wanted to make them as accessible as possible to young people with learning impairments. For this reason I asked inclusive play specialist Max Alexander to undertake this work with me and to act as a sort of ‘translator’, taking the outputs that I was looking for and designing activities that would help the students to generate them.
Some key things that we learned during the seven-week process:
- The concept of ‘disability identity’ was very challenging to explore in this context - it’s a complex idea to explain in an accessible way.
- This was compounded by the students learning in an environment where every other student is also disabled – so their concept of being ‘other’ or ‘different’ wasn’t what we expected it to be. Within their context they are not ‘other’ at all.
- Robert - as the only wheelchair user - was frequently seen as the ‘disabled person’ in the room. So for a group of teenagers with moderate to complex needs we can still see that ‘wheelchair = disabled’.
How this learning will impact the final production is still very much to be decided. Whether the production itself can be made accessible to young people with complex learning impairments is something we need to investigate further. It is clear that young disabled people are not always asked to think about what it means to be disbabled in the world - maybe they don’t and never will think about it the way I do (?).