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On being a writer / 11 January 2016

A photograph of the cast and crew of CEDA's production of Clive Essame's play, Impisi. It shows many actors in wheelchairs and others standing on a theatre set.

The cast and crew of CEDA's production of Impisi.

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Being a writer is a hard business. 

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”
—Harper Lee

But it is only the start of being a writer who produces work that is read, seen or heard. To achieve that a writer now needs to be a social media expert or a public speaker; a workshop leader; a teacher or a marketer; a director or an actor; and those things can be hard. 

The actual writing is what brings us to writing; the creative process of forming words into something that has meaning, impact and purpose. We can rewrite, polish, edit and improve our work, and when we feel it is ready to be seen in the light of day we can get someone else to read it and that can be painful. It is exposing and dangerous. 

When my play Impisi was first performed in South Africa I was lucky enough to be there, I was very nervous – what had the actors and the director done to my precious work? But most concerning was had they kept the emotions and feelings behind my writing true to what I was trying to say? These were the things that I felt about living with a disability, living ‘successfully’ as a person with a disability in an able-bodied world. How my experiences and attitudes had formed me, and how other people’s attitudes to me had impacted on me. 

It was OK though. The audiences ‘got it’. They understood the play. I was introduced to the audiences, and subsequently engaged in many conversations with children and their parents about the play. Comments from young people included: 
•    “you must not bully people who are disabled”;
•    “we are all different aren’t we, not better, just different”;
•    “it’s all about friendship isn’t it”. 

Adults told me:
•    “if you think you are a victim then people can treat you like one, that’s what your play told me”;
•    “there was lots in that play, I need to go and think about it, but it was excellent”.

When I returned to the UK I was hoping to be able to get the two actors – Ellis Pearson and Sdumo Mtshali – over here to tour the play. I spent ages writing a bid and I got to the final selection for an Arts Council grant but fell at the last hurdle. Then life took over and I put the play on the back-burner and got on with earning a living. 

But now Impisi has taken on a life of its own  – I have directed it in schools, been involved in a big production by a local charity for people with disabilities, and worked in many different ways on work inspired by the play. I have had to learn all of the skills I mentioned above to make something significant from the play. But I would still love to see it tour schools. In its original form Impisi is a two-hander, it requires no expensive staging or props and runs to about 45 minutes in length; ideal for primary and secondary schools as it fits in so well with the National Curriculum. To find out more do get in touch – clive@impisiproductions.com or 07804215006. 

 

 

Keywords: theatre,theatre in education,writing

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