Thursday, 20 June 2013

A night to remember

There's nothing nicer for a writer than seeing their work in print or being performed. So it was an absolute treat to travel to London last night to watch the world premiere of Atos Stories as performed by Act Up! Newham.

When we first conceived the idea of a play about Atos, the intent was always to make the work public and encourage others to perform it in their own communities. We were a tad naive about how easy this might be. The professional theatre companies we approached were interested, but the piece was either not quite their thing, or they were struggling with resources and needed help with fundraising. Despite being a collective, we're not a proper organisation, we're writers with busy lives (one of us with health problems), so unfortunately we've not been able to help in this regard. We have managed to have some success with getting the Atos Monologues out there as they are relatively easy for anyone to use/read (they've been performed in Leeds, at Greenbelt, been used in a mass read that involved performances in Oxford, Cardiff, podcasts, livestreaming and tweeting, and podcast by My Life My Choice. But it's been much harder with Atos Stories which is a proper play that needs actors, props, a bit ot technology and a director. 

Fortunately, one of our early contacts was Act Up! Newham - a small inclusive theatre company based in East London. We were really excited when we met them last year, as a) they were enthusiastic about the script and b) they're based in Newham the site of the Olympics/Paralympics stadium. Since Atos' sponsorship of both events was one of the triggers for writing the play, we had high hopes that perhaps a performance might be linked with the opening ceremony. That too was naive - we really hadn't thought through how much work it takes to get a play like this ready for performance. Still as the year progressed, Act Up!Newham kept us posted about their rehearsals and we were thrilled when they were given an opportunity to perform at the Newham Council Christmas festival. Sadly Newham pulled the plug on this as they felt the play was too "unfestive" - we disagreed (& after last night even more so), and were glad that Act Up! Newham didn't let it put them off.

So last night, was special in several ways. The company were at last able to perform  the play after that setback. The performance was in Newham as part of an event looking at the legacy of the Paralympics AND it was the world premiere.

And it was terrific. Act Up! Newham is an inclusive company with members with and without disabilities. Some of the members have limited speech, so the company cleverly adapted the play so everyone could take part. They cut some scenes, adapted others, used the technique of someone with limited speech saying something and the actor they were playing the scene with repeating the line as a question. The physical aspects of the play worked beautifully and as an ensemble they performed with great gusto. The whole point of Atos Stories is that everyone who performs is part of the Collective and  everyone can make the play their own. I absolutely loved it. Stand out scenes were the menacing "We will shop you" opening as the cast threatened Ian Dury before he fought back with his rhythm stick; the  "Congratulations"  song when Atos found people fit to work; the three wise monkeys (See no Evil about Atos etc) which is a stunning visual, and the dramatic I'm Spasticus. We'd imagined people singing it, but reading the lines gives the song a whole a new energy. "Never underestimate the power of the Spasticus" indeed.

All in all it was a marvellous evening. The play was part of a series of events organised by E13 People United, looking at disability and community life in Newham. A second performer, Ju Gosling, treated us to a wonderful reflection on what it means to be normal. Afterwards we had round table discussions asking questions about "what is normal?", "what was good and bad about the Paralympics?",  "how can communities be more inclusive?" A stimulating conversation, that gives me great heart. Disabled people are facing SO much crap at the moment, it was great to see so much positive energy, ambition and desire to make change happen. I'd really like to thank everyone who attended for the warm welcome and for also letting me plug the WOW Petition.

And  a huge thank you to Act Up! Newham, for working so hard and giving us such a memorable performance, here's a clip from a rehearsal earlier this year

It was a great night and a real in your face to the DWP, Atos, IDS. The people united will never be defeated - and you can never, ever underestimate the power of the Spasticus!

The Atos Stories Collective is open to anyone who wants to join in. Anyone anywhere can use our material to act against Atos in a theatre, library, street corner, at a community event, festival, or protest. So please do feel free to download them here And get in touch so we can spread the word about your plans. BE part of the Collective!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Atos Stories premieres!!! (Finally)

Readers of this blog will know that at Christmas, our friends Act Up! Newham were all set to perform Atos Stories as part of the Council's Newham event. Unfortunately things didn't quite go to plan - at the last minute the Council stopped the performance as they deemed it unsuitable for a festive occasion.

Thankfully, Act Up! Newham haven't let this setback defeat them. This  week they will be performing their accessible version of Atos Stories at the E13 People United celebration of Disability and Community Life.

Judging from this sneak preview - it's going to be great.

So if you're in or around E13 on Wednesday, why not pop along...and spread the word!