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LeanerFasterStronger: blurbs, images, publicity

I have a love-hate relationship with publicity materials and the PR machine. I know production images, blurb and press releases are essential for the successful publicising of a production, but that still doesn’t lessen the pain of trying to create material that bears some relation to the content of the show, whilst also keeping artistic integrity, and not giving the game away….

I know it’s a personal predilection, but I dislike publicity material which tells me too much. I’m not interested in knowing what successful production this new one could be compared to (‘if you liked Mamma Mia, you’ll love this…’). I don’t want to be directed too much in how to perceive the show, nor do I want to know the age, inner thoughts, or inside leg measurements of the characters in the pre-show blurb. I intend to see the performance to experience all that. I want the briefest sense of what the production is about – the theme or subject matter, the company and collaborators – director and creators or playwright – and that’s good enough for me.

I’m currently travelling in North America and Canada and have been surprised by some live performance publicity which have been the equivalent of a film spoiler (I think that’s a more appropriate term than ‘film trailer’). It’s not that I need to be in a heightened ‘what’s going to happen?’ thriller-like state to go and enjoy a performance – I’m a serial-Beckett fan and so have seen multiple versions of the same plays, and will continue to do so in the future – it’s all to do with tone and being spoon-fed.

So pity Sheffield Theatres creative producer Andrew Loretto and Chol Theatre’s artistic director Susan Burns, who approached me recently about the blurb for our 2012 production LeanerFaster Stronger…

I’m fortunate in that I’ve always written or been centrally involved in the publicity material for any play I’ve written. I’ve found that this becomes a necessity when the work is disability-led, or features actors who have physical or sensory impairments – which much of my work does. I have lost count of the number of altercations I have had with journalists, newspapers and marketing departments about inappropriate or even downright offensive language used in regards to my work, or my talented collaborators.

Several years ago I reduced the marketing department of a theatre to embarrassment and tears after I deconstructed their publicity material, revealing how it not only adhered to the Medical Model of Disability, but also reduced my feisty, outrageous, foul-mouthed crip protagonists into pathetic victims defined merely by their condition. The fact this treatment was then extended to defining some of the company members was unacceptable and much debate and consultation followed. I admired the company’s willingness to learn and make amends, but know many similar well-meaning but problematic errors are still being made, despite the many Disability Equality Training initiatives companies participate in. A disability awareness takes time to be absorbed fully into the body of a company, and until my crip  normality is if not the norm, at least relevant and valid, I’ll continue to write the blurb for my plays.

In the case for LeanerFasterStronger, I’m working with companies which are not only disability-aware, but positively disability-welcoming, and the director is a fellow viz imp. I had few qualms, then, when looking at the material they suggested for publicity. After a few tweaks we got our collectively-created blurb, which follows, below – but not yet the defining image for the production. The exploration continues. Watch this space.

Chol Theatre & Sheffield Theatres present 
24 May – 2 June 2012, 7.45 pm
Matinees: 2.15pm, 31 May & 2.15pm, 2 June 
at Crucible Studio Theatre, 
55 Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 1DA
0114 249 6000

How far would you go to be the best?
What if bio-engineered body parts and medical science were on tap to make you leaner, faster and stronger? 
Would you fight it; or embrace the brave new world? 
A darkly humorous and provocative theatre experience which explores the limits of what human means.
Written by Kaite O’Reilly (winner of the Ted Hughes Award for Poetry 2010), directed by Andrew Loretto, designed by Shanaz Gulzar.
LeanerFasterStronger is a Chol Theatre and Sheffield Theatres coproduction.

For more information go to

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 28 October 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 1 November 2011

LeanerFasterStronger: Bodies in motion, extraordinary moves

I'm in Canada, revising the next draft of LeanerFasterStronger, the Cultural Olympiad commission from Chol Theatre in a co-production with Sheffield Theatres. The project is part of Extraordinary Moves, a major strand of the imove programme, which celebrates and challenges the relationship between people and their moving bodies through a series of arts projects across Yorkshire.

One of the processes I use when redrafting is to go back and revisit all the source material I've found that when there is a 'hole' in a developed draft, or a problem to be solved, invariably the missing link is offered up somewhere in the research material and earlier drafts. So it is with delight I'm in the process of reviewing my documentation of our research week at Sheffield Hallam Sports Science Lab, organised by Susan Burns of Chol Theatre in partnership with XMoves co-producer Dr David James I'm further aided in my revision by a documentary directed by Andy Duggan to be shown later this year at Leeds International Film Festival.

'Extraordinary moves celebrates human movement', Laura Haughey said, introducing me to the motion capture lab, where performers, choreographers, dancers, directors, scientists and this writer spent a week exploring movement potential and our relationship to moving bodies

My first introduction to sports science technology was through infra red cameras 'Dots' applied to the joints and other parts of the body 'captured' the subject in space and reproduced the physical sequence on a computer screen as lines of movement This in effect erased the human form, creating instead an arresting constellation of dots When these were joined up, 'stick' men and women moved on the computer screen, clearly revealing how very different bodies move in space.

Some participants didn't distinguish the avatar body as their own until they saw a recognisable movement trait, or an interaction with a cane, or what we coined the 'magic carpet' levitation provided by an unmarked moving wheelchair.

There has been a long cultural and linguistic practice of assigning meaning to the impaired body and I was particularly interested in discovering how this changed when the body was represented in such a different form Part of my role was to facilitate discussion and reflection after the sessions, so I asked the politicised disabled performer/ dancers how they responded to this 'new' mode of representation of themselves.

'I liked the experience of seeing a non-disabled version of myself' Kiruna Stamell said. 'It meant the movement could be analysed without social judgement of the body, without judgement of the politics Just to see the pure movement! The judgement around my physicality is more about my physical relationship as a disabled woman to an environment I'm in, not a judgement on my body as a judgement on my body'

Other activity that week included a physical workshop led by Andrew Loretto, working with two disabled and two non-disabled dancers, working with high speed cameras to capture the subtle movements and interactions not seen by the naked eye.

'We're interested in how people move, and what moves them' Laura said t'We're interested in how people move, and what moves them' Laura said to camera at the start of the day What struck me was the speed and intensity of engagement - the immediate and complex negotiations of equal bodies and space - the marked moments of tenderness, or of pure joy

For further footage of this extraordinary research week, please view Andy Duggan's award-nominated film at:

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 13 October 2011

Last modified by Trish Wheatley, 27 October 2011