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The Road Trip (The first day of the Pathways to the Profession symposium)

'PATHWAYS TO PROFESSION' was hosted by SCOTTISH DANCE THEATRE at West Park, Dundee on Thursday 19th January 2012

I found it a struggle to get up, I always do, I love my bed, it’s so warm but this morning I was excited. I had already decided what I was wearing and everything was ready. I had a hotel sized cup of tea (they are just the right size for me. I never drink a whole cup, I leave about an inch in the bottom) and I rush downstairs to find the directions.

I didn’t think it was that far so I would walk, as I got to the reception some ladies were getting directions too. They were ever so excited they were in the same mind as me, anticipating what it would be like to be surrounded by our ilk. We walked a bit together until I remembered that I had left my Edirol in the car and I definitely needed that, today I was to interview Mat Fraser.

He’s  a Disabled Artist and he has broken into the mainstream, well he has broken the shell with his egg tooth (strange chicken analogy). He has had performances with Sealboy Freak and Thalidomide. A Musical!! I had to do this interview. So I drove there. Plus I didn’t know how far it was, excuses, excuses.. I just wanted to get there faster.

After not being able to get out of the hotel car park without a code, and going passed the venue, I pulled into the car park of West Park and got met at my car and shown the way to the door. I felt a little bit special that changed (or maybe I felt a different kind of special) when I got stuck in my coat. It’s these mittens I have. I kept losing one (little feeling in one hand so that was fine but I used the other all the time ) so what we did was create a long sausage and sewed it to the mittens, they are not proper mittens if they don’t have a lovely chord! But I do tend to get stuck in my coat when I wear them, which is all of the time, ahhhh the trials and tribulations of mittens, I bet you didn’t even realise.

I head straight for the coffee and pastries, heaven, always the sign of a good event, and no commoners coffee either, real coffee. I look around and spot Adam Benjamin, Paula Hocking and Claire Summers, the inclusive dancers from Plymouth..actually,  inclusive, I think they are integrated as they are all non – disabled (temporarily able bodied (TABS) as my friend Gini calls them) practitioners. I think, please correct me if I’m wrong, that INCLUSIVE is led by a disabled practitioner and a mixed ability class and INTEGRATED is a non-disabled practitioner and a mixed ability class.

Mr Benjamin was one of the founders of the inclusive dance company Candoco, based in London, Paula Hocking is the founder of Wheelfever and doing a speech tomorrow and she is very nervous.

Claire Summers is dancer and workaholic extraordinaire. She can turn her hand to anything and was the Manager of Strictly Collaborative for a long time. Helping to build it to what it is today. She is a star. She works with Adam, Wheelfever and other dance companies in Plymouth. Those guys are doing some great work for inclusive dance. I would love to see inclusive theatre raising its game.

I feel that disabled practitioners in the South West are not being utilised as much as they should, there aren’t many but use us!

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 1 March 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 14 March 2012

THE ROAD TRIP [from Leeds to Dundee: Interval]

My Bidet. Yep, I'm dedicating the whole interval to my bidet.  I had never experienced a bidet before, sure I had seen them in pictures, tv and films, but not in person.

To say I was thrilled does not cut it. I couldn't even bring myself to use it. To be honest I wasn't really sure how? I knew it was for washing your penis, but I had also heard that it was for washing your bum - a replacment for toilet paper, saves getting toilet paper stuck in your crevices, but surely it would be a hinderance.

As you can see from the picture the taps are at the back, so if you are washing your posterior, you would have to do it from behind your back surely. How awkward! And I dont think it would be sturdy enough to sit on, so you would have to squat. How uncomfortable is that.

You see, as excited as I am about bidet's, I can see the downfall and I love the toilet. The toilet is the place where I can, literally, let go, relax, read, plan and be left alone. All unwanted substances can be expelled without worry. No one can enter 'the toilet zone', it is my space. It has been like this for years.

When I was growing up, even before I shared a room with meine schwester, I used to frequent the toilet to get away from people, she (my sister Zoe) loves to recount the story of how she swung open the bathroom door to find me sat on the toilet playing the keyboard. Later in life when we did share a room, I found that the toilet was the place I would inhabit when she was sleeping and I wanted to write poems or diary entries, here is a little ditty I wrote on the toilet, about her:

Some people like to ride horses
Some people like to ride ponies
Some people breath through their mouths when they sleep
And some people breath through their noses
Some people snore very quietly
Although it's not often it's true
But Zoe just snores like a tractor
Or something escaped from a Zoo

You can replace 'Zoe' with any name, that's the beauty of it. So, don't underestimate the tranquility of the toilet, is my motto, another life im so profound...oh yeah, and if you have any Bidet rules then feel free to message me or write on my face book, always willing to learn!)

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 31 January 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 6 March 2012

THE ROAD TRIP (from Leeds to Dundee)

I feel a little strange saying this, but it was difficult to leave. I saw little Maddy at the door as Jon helped me take my huge wheelie bag (which many have said is like an old lady bag. It is a well known fact that as soon as you have a stroke you revert to being a 60 year old. I am a prime example of this. Anyway, it's not an 'old lady bag', it is green and, I think, quite trendy. And she was waving at the door. It surprised me. It's not them per se, but the situation, oo er. Another example of age creeping up. Tick, tick, tick.

The drive was very relaxing. It was longest one I'd done at five hours thirty-ish. The great thing about these drives is I see some amazing sunsets, cloud formations, landscapes and stars, especially as I was driving through Cumbria, at the edge of the lake district, there are some photos that I took, but they were only taken on my phone so they're not grand and don't represent the true splendor of the moment.

I listened to 'Just A Minute' for a good portion of this journey. I love it; the relationships between the panellists and how they try to squirm out of it, so Nicholas gives them 'the benefit of the doubt.' I can talk for England most of the time, very little of it making any sense, but I'm not sure if I could do it without hesitating, repetition or deviation. I think the key is not to think about it, it's the other panelists problem. Oh and (life rule ahoy) don't worry about looking like a nincompoop!

As I reached the end of the straight, about Carlisle, I stopped at a service station and popped in to their outside loo and I saw my first and last bit of anti English graffiti telling us to go back to our own country. Aaahh, how racist? You get 'em everywhere.

After reaching my destination, as the lady on the sat nav says daily, I got out of my car, it was cold, unsuprisingly, its been quite chilly all the way up north but I have been using a method to stave off the cold. Another of my little philosophies(?) ' feel the warmth' and your body will find the warmth in the cold... yes, odd I know, but try it, say 'feel the warmth' to yourself (fyi, I dont recommend saying this aloud, as you may get some funny looks), relax and bingo, you're warmer! (the same works with 'find the light' in darkness!)

I entered the The Queens Hotel, Dundee, it was quite small on the outside but tardis like inside. it's plush décor, gold in colour, made me feel quite regal, I love it!

A man helped me take all my luggage up to my room, as I shut the door behind him, I looked around, 'nice' I thought. Then I opened the door to my bathroom, oh my giddy aunt, I had a bidet, yes, a BIDET...i have never been so excited about a bathroom installation in my life, to the pont that I have taken pictures, a video and told a lot of people, most of whom I do not know, about my bidet, adding, 'I can wash my penis if I want'.

I ordered some food (fishy goujons, chips and a salad) and had a well deserved shower....oo room sevice, a bidet (which I spelt 'bedet' but was corrected by my friend, Mat Martin), I could get used to this.

I was quite tired and uber-excited about tomorrow, I didnt know what to expect but I couldn't wait!

To be continued...

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 30 January 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 6 March 2012

The Road Trip (from Plymouth to Dundee) continued...

I am in my hotel room in Dundee, I have been here since Wednesday and I am so relaxed. I have had the best time ever. With so many crips here I can relax and be myself, because I am not the only spac, no one looks at you as if your strange..and even better than that we are all artists trying to succeed and, dare I say it, change the world!

So much has happened that I am clambering over my letters as I try to get all the 'golden nuggets' out in haste but I will try to make it as clear and unrambling (a word?) as possible.

Now where did I leave you before?  I was going to Manchester....

Right, im going to write down bullet points, and elaborate on them at a later point (bite sized chunks), and so I remember when I pass out from exhaustion!

• The Frog and Bucket, Manchester
• Jon and Madeleine, Leeds
• The Drive to Bonny Scotland
• My hotel Room
• The Spaccy Symposium (Pathways to Profession, Day 1)
• An Evening of Disability Arts
• The Spaccy Symposium (Pathways to Profession, Day 2)
• Abso-bloomin-lutely knackered........and it is only Friday!

I managed to find the pub, Smithfield Hotel and Bar, but that is a somewhat of a misnomer, as it was quite old, small, and rickety but I liked it, it had the basics, it was £20 a night and, as I soon discovered was a minute away from The Frog and Bucket, Comedy Club which was my next stop. I was tired but this was to good an opportunity to miss, I had no idea what to expect but I knew that, if I had the chance id be up there making a tit out of myself.

I had been told it was just on the corner, so I crossed the road and walked but couldnt see it. I asked some young lads if they could 'possibly point me in the direction of the Frog and Barrel?' “ Y' mean The Frog and Bucket? The Comedy Club? Its reet over't thur love ! pointing to the illuminated building right across the road.. 'cheers I chirped. I was quite excited...

I walked in and discovered that the dealio was this. It's an amateur night. There were 11 comedians (prebooked unfortunately) who have about 5 mins to wow the audience. There are three cards given to three audience members. If these three cards are held a loft during their set they are off, stripped of their dignity. If they last the alloted time they come back at the end and the audience votes by clapping, stomping, cheering etc (not wholly reliable sometimes).

It was a really good experience, I spoke to some of the comedians, asked for advice, got to watch some funny guys and also some bloody awful acts. The greatest thing is that I know some of my comedy is going to work. I talk about U.S.P. (Unique Selling Point) and how we all need to fit into boxes so we 'belong', 'the nerd', 'the spac', 'the muso', 'the hippy', 'the raver'...

We put a negative spin on 'boxes' but when we are no longer in them, we need another way to make us stand out from the crowd, so we jump in another box to find like minded individuals or straddle a number of boxes, why not, be a greedy box hogger.

“ Stop putting me in a box!”
“Why dont you stop moaning, put your slippers on, and make yourself at home in the box.”

The point. Know your self. Simple. (I wish!)

The guys at the comedy club were rolling in U.S.P's.  A dwarf, a ginger, an indian, gay, black and a transexual, to name but a few. Some of them were painful to watch and I sure as hell didnt take a card, thats a lot of pressure and I may meet them again one day!

But some where very good, when I saw Mark Restuccia, I found myself making notes and we talked through some of the jokes briefly at the end (when I apologised for being disabled basically, I shouldn't do that really.) I felt like I knew what I was talking about, when did that happen?

I went back to the place I call home feeling satisfied and like I was on the correct path and now I have done another reccy. I'm feeling all warm and centred, I have a crafty one and a cuppa and go to bed.

Interval: Home is a strange concept, especially when you are on the road. I am a home bird. I love my flat. I miss my flat, my cats, my bed. I need comfort. So on this trip I am calling everywhere I stay 'home'. My temporary home. This way it's not that scary. BUT I am prepared for sleeping in my car if needs must. I have a sleeping bag, my quilt, a big burgandy pillow (there's a colour you don't here often) and a big fluffy coat but I dont think i'll need to stay in Guinevere (that my car, she's a Skoda Roomster, she is also burgundy and, like my mind, a complete mess!)

I know it sounds strange but my mind is my home, my security, my favourite company, in fact I'd say I would rather be with myself than anyone else...which is quite handy considering this road trip, we've been writing a song today, my brain and I, we have a verse but the rest is shit.)

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 26 January 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 6 March 2012

The Road Trip (from Plymouth to Dundee)

The plan is to get to Dundee by Wednesday 18th January for a Spac Symposium or Crip conference (my words). On my journey I shall be continuing with the 'Artist Treasure Hunt' which, I am hoping, will be quite fruitful as there will be a plethera of Disabled Artists up in Dundee and I shall catch them all....well maybe not all, but some.

As my plans had changed, I came straight to London to see Sushila, Lindsay, Steve and Indie. Well, I say 'straight', I missed the junction at Exeter to get to the A303 and it was trying to get me off the M5 all the way to Taunton where, eventually, I succumb and travelled miles and miles through the whole of Somerset, needing a wee for the majority of it and shouting obscenities at my satnav, til I reached the A303.

I have an unsettling, untrusting relationship with my sat nav, my first experience was when I borrowed my ex-boyfriends box to navigate around Bristol. I had gone wrong, somehow, probably from disobeying her that should be obeyed - and it was constantly telling me to turn around. But I was not having that, I knew best, as always. Well I got further and further into the bad lands of Bristol and thought, maybe just maybe I should listen to the one in the know, let go.

I find it very difficult to rely on other people, especially if they are actually a robotic voice (I had to change the voice of the sat nav as she just sounded so patronising, I didn't want to believe her!) This is why I undertook this road trip, I have little idea where I shall be from one day to the next, I have a few stops planned but I sort it out on the day...exciting, scary but I have let go...well I'm letting go.

Slow down
Stay in the moment
Think of the journey as CHUNKS not as a whole entity...too scary otherwise
Feel the fear but do it anyway

Driving through London was uber scary, I passed Madame Tussauds, there were HUGE buildings with HUGE billboards – it looked like they were out of 'Sharktale' or some sci-fi film like 5th Element. London was big and scary (says the country bumpkin!), There was loads of traffic and everyone merging with everyone else but I am trying to control my roadrage and get over my scaredness! Ineed to push myself out of my comfort zone and I feel that I am totally doing that with this trip.

Before I left I sent an application to the BBC because they are looking for Disabled Presenters. I told my 'friend' and she said 'I don't think you are disabled enough to be a presenter.' I was furious about this comment and gave her a good rollicking about her attitude saying that this is the kind of attitude that I/we are trying to dispel. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that she may be right, perhaps they are looking for visibly disabled people – thats one of the reasons that I take my walking stick with me (obviously I need it too but I find you get a different kind of 'service' if you are visdis (visually disabled))

Unfortunately it's the way it is. But it does it have to be? Well short of a backward tattoo on your forehead or a T Shirt with 'I've had brain injury, bare with me' written in capital letters, I don't see how we can change the attitude.

Is this the attitude that we have come to expect from 'norms' – actually I think the disableds are just as bad... me included. I have been known to be a little discriminatory at times. I moan about everything. I jump down peoples throats before they finish their comments and I'm uber arsey but it doesn't change the fact that it's just not on.

Another thing, I saw it at a service station this eve, there were two consecutive entrances, the first was automatic, the second was manual – WHY? Wheelchair users etc will be able to use one but not the other.

THINK PEOPLE… actually there was a Travelodge two seconds from the main entrance, am not surprised that its an accessible hindrance (project to come 'Travelodge is shit'...working title!)

TO COME : Tonight only, Manchester, comedy club, open mic spots....pooing my pants...stay tuned!!!!

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 17 January 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 17 January 2012

All these beautiful things and I get stuck with paperwork...

I need to be a doer, a go getter
Not a sitter and a thinker
(Although it is an important part
of the creative process!)
but I need to find a balance.
This lack of self confidence is an issue.
A big issue.
(Although the fact that I don’t know what I am doing may be a factor)
' not waving but drowning'
wanting to give up
over and
'cry me a river,
cos ive cried a river over you.'
It’s a steep learning curve
but which direction?

The creative part is the bit I get excited about, workshops, seeing what others create, an insight in to their lives, it makes me feel like im really doing something worthwhile, that my aims for Strictly Collaborative are being met BUT instead im stuck in an unforgiving admin world, faffing around with invoices and bills and fundraising and websites and aaaaarrrrggghhh. Not enjoyable at all!

What I need, dear readers, is a reliable team who can handle all the boring (yet important) paper work – it's my weakness, perhaps I should put that in my swot analysis, in fact ive got to get on with that - another bloody thing that I should have done but have put off – 'dont put off to tomorrow what you could do today!'

You see, I've got loads of plans and people asking to help, which is fabby, but I don't ask for help because I don't believe that people will want to help, why would they?... and we are back to the self confidence issue (to use an awful colloquillism) it does my nut in!

'nough with the negativity, im sure I can do it but I tend to worry and play things out in my head but then the ideas/plans get sucked away or get fragmented, never to be heard of again until its too late. I try to write things down, lists, lots of lists, they used to be on random pieces of paper until I got a project book for each thing I do ie History of Lies (blues band), Strictly Collaborative and good ole DAO. It seems to be working at the mo, im a little more organised than I used to be.

Many books of different sizes
Different colours
Years of memories
Uni journals
Personal diaries
Workshops, mine and 'collected' ones
(Plagerism is the facillitators friend, I have been told)

All these beautiful things and I get stuck with paperwork. Fundraising is a pain in the posterior, having to change the way you say things to please the people who give you money – there's a name for that y'know! Not my cup o tea, I'm just not that kinda gal. So, the plan...

VOLUNTEERS – I need a team but have no money to pay any one except when I get a fundraiser to get money
PARTNERSHIPS – With the university, PMZ (PLYMOUTH MUSIC ZONE), Care companies, The NHS, Stroke Association
A FUNDRAISER – With partners?

Right I think my head might explode... (If any of the readers have any ideas/advice/offers/experience to help further my company I would would receive them gratefully!!!)

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 24 June 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 28 June 2011

Ems interviews Caroline Bowditch, choreographer and performer, who is currently working with Scottish Dance Theatre

Ems Coombes: Caroline Bowditch, Hello and welcome to the Artist Treasure Hunt.

Caroline Bowditch: Thanks for having me.

EC: That’s okay. It’s quite exciting, isn’t it.

CB: (Laughter) It is exciting. Why is it called the Artist Treasure Hunt?

EC: Because I want to find other artists. Other disabled artists. So I’m hoping that I’ll find new blood.

CB: Are you going to make a map and mark where the treasure is?

EC: Maps are so one of my things.

CB: Well, there you go.

EC: Do you want to tell us a bit about your practice and who you are?

CB: Yes. I’m an independent performance artist. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a dancer. I would call myself a choreographer. My practice is that I am passionate about working with bodies that don’t necessarily fit the dance mould, whatever that might be. I like working in unusual places. (Laughter) And I make work that is multi-faceted and often is based around text. But I hope and continue to want to make high-quality work that makes people think and feel.

EC: In your life, what has been – what made you become who you are?

CB: That’s a very big question.

EC: Or maybe – maybe a sort of touch point or springboard into your creative world.

CB: Okay. I think the springboard was probably my introduction to contact improvisation. And as I said to you earlier today, and really feeling like I landed in my skin. For the first time in my life. And became aware of what was physically possible for me rather than living in a state of fear based on what I’d been told I couldn’t do.

EC: Contact improvisation? You said that that was the touch-point. But why did you do it?

CB: I did it because Candoco were coming to Australia for the first time, in 1996. And there was a project called Moveable Dance co-ordinated by an organisation called Arts Access based in Melbourne. And they were – they wanted to bring together a group of disabled people who had some performance experience. And because I had done a degree majoring in performing arts, and had therefore done performance, I was involved in the project.

EC: Was that the first time you’d worked inclusively or had you worked inclusively before?

CB: I had gone to a special school until I was 8. And after that time, I was integrated. So I’d always been around other disabled people. It wasn’t like that was the first time I had met anyone with a disability, other than myself.

EC: What about working with non-disabled people?

CB: I suppose in a way, it probably was the first time that I had worked in that kind of level-playing-field sort of a way. Yes. I suppose it was the first time I worked inclusively.

EC: Did you – how did you feel about working inclusively?

CB: I don’t think I really noticed. I mean, I wasn’t conscious that it was a different environment. I didn’t necessarily go there and think, “This is a really different world to anywhere else.” Yes, so I don’t think I was really that conscious of it at the time.

EC: An influential piece of art work. Or an influential artist. And why they are so influential?

CB: I think that this is – I’m not saying this because I’m in Plymouth. But I think that an influential artist and someone who keeps recurring in my life and has had a major impact on me and my dance development has to be Adam Benjamin. He was still involved in Candoco. I met him 1996. I can still remember the exercises that he led in that workshop. And I can’t say that of anyone else that I have ever worked with.

I have worked with him as a choreographer, in terms of me being one of his dancers. He continues to be a mentor to me. And we continue to have interesting conversations on which we disagree and agree on lots of things. But there is always an interesting dialogue.

EC: You worked on a project with him as well, didn’t you? Can you talk a little bit about that?

CB: He choreographed a piece on the Fathom Project which was a group that I was involved in setting up based in Newcastle. And he made a piece on us called Slight. But the year before that, I had also worked with him just as a dancer when I had gone to work with Scottish Dance Theatre and he’d come to be the choreographer of the piece on the company. And the main company had brought in four disabled dancers to work with their non-disabled dancers. The company dancers.

EC: So he’s been very influential throughout your career really, hasn’t he?

CB: Absolutely.

EC: Last but definitely not least, probably because there’s actually points to this one. Okay. So three pivotal moments in your life or your career?

CB: Getting on a plane to move to the UK and not knowing what I was going to find. Other than the man that I was going to marry at the other end. Leaving a job that I loved, a house that I loved, everything that was familiar. My family. All of my friends. To move to a new country knowing two people. That was fairly pivotal.

Having someone say to me, “What is it that you want to say on stage that you think is going to be so important for an audience to see?” Which sent me into a complete state of shock. But also really made me think about the work that I was making. And it made me ensure that it wasn’t trivial in the least. But by the time it got to performance, it was absolutely ready to be there. And deserved to be there. And I think that doesn’t happen a lot. So that was another one.

EC: I was going to say, looking into your eyes right at this moment, Miss Bowditch, you – there is an awful lot of life story going on in them. (laughter)

CB: Yes, I think the other point possibly for me was when Janet Smith, the artistic director of Scottish Dance Theatre, asked me if I would be prepared to go and work with the company on tour as one of the dancers after a week’s R&D. And me really having to have a good hard look at myself and think, “Are you actually prepared for that? Are you prepared to take this next step and actually really consider yourself to be a professional dancer?”

EC: And the answer to that question?

CB: Yes, I am.

EC: (Laughter) Fantastic. Good for all of us really. I know, I know I said three questions. But something has really interested me. Last week, Andrew McLay said something about sex is a very interesting point for a disabled person. Now you mentioned nudity earlier.

CB: Yes.

EC: And because of your physicality, I’m wondering how difficult is that of a concept. You know, to be nude in front of people. Is that, you know, I  mean have ever considered it? Have you ever done it? What is your take on that?

CB: I’ve posed nude for a female disabled painter. And been made much larger than I really am. So –

EC: Do you mean taller?

CB: Whilst I’m – I was kind of in one of those Titanic poses.

So reclining and whilst I am 3 foot 4, these canvases ended up being about 6 foot high and I think probably about 8 foot long. And I was across three of them. So it was completely – it was a massive, massive image of me.

When I came to the UK and I started working with Fiona Wright as part of a collaboration called Girl Jonah, she asked me whether I would go topless and bottomless. And I said, “Yes.” And I did it. But I had the biggest anxiety attack I’ve ever had in my life before I had to go on stage. (Laughter) Mostly because my boss was sitting in the front row.

But also, having said that, the painting that was done was also viewed by my boss a week before I started the job. So it’s kind of like there’s this weird connection between me getting naked and –

But I think nudity is something that lots of people shy away from in inclusive work. And the work that I did with Fiona was much more seen in the live art setting. And I think in a way, that’s where lots of disabled artists end up, is in the live art kind of fringy sort of places. Rather than mainstream dance scene.

EC: Do you think it’s because of the ‘disabled gaze’. You know, it’s – how people sort of look at you for you – will they look at you for your disability? Or will they look at you? You know the gaze is a strange one.

CB: Yes. I think I get fascinated by this fact that, as a society, we’re encouraged not to stare. Whereas in performance, that’s exactly  what you’re aiming for. And I think there’s a real juxtaposition. And almost a contradiction in that. Because we are inviting people to look. Actually, that’s what we want.

But once we step off the stage, that’s not what we want any more. And that’s about control for me. That’s about the fact that I can’t control what people think. But for once I can control what they see. In a way. How they read that, I can’t control.

And also, I think that I have a very strong sense of my body. I have a very strong sense of body confidence. In a recent relationship, my then partner said, I have never ever been with someone who knows their body as well as you do. And it was just like, “Yes. Absolutely. And why the hell shouldn’t I?” (Laughter)

EC: I was going to say that this stems from all the work that you’ve done with your genetic make up and everything. You know, and I think that this goes for a lot of disabled people. Me as one of them. You know when I realised that I was disabled, I looked and researched into what it meant to have a stroke. What it meant to be disabled. You know, how I looked, my physicality. I think that once we get to that place, you know, like you with Candoco, when they came to – that it frees you up.

CB: Yes.

EC: And you think, “Okay. So now I can accept myself. So you look to see why – what’s going on there. And then ask for other people to accept you to.

CB: I think that’s probably not true for me. I don’t mind if people accept it or not. But I suppose in a way I do. Because otherwise I wouldn’t make an effort in terms of how I look. I wouldn’t actually put in any effort. (Laughter) If I didn’t care.

EC: No, exactly. You wouldn’t have sat here putting your make up on before hand. You know. And we wouldn’t want our performances to sell out and things like that if we didn’t want to be understood and accepted, surely?

CB: Yes, absolutely.

EC: But I think that’s a human condition. I don’t think that necessarily stops at disability.

CB: I think also the longer I am in my body, the more accepting I become of it. I remember being 16 and completely hating it. And just – it was never going to be good enough. But I was being a teenage girl. And that wasn’t about having a disability. Necessarily. It was about being 16 and wanting to fit in.

EC: Acceptance again, I suppose.

CB: Yes.

EC: Maybe that’s what we’re searching for all the time.

CB: Yes. Yes.

EC: Well, Miss Bowditch. It’s been a wondrous weekend and a wondrous interview. And I hope to see you again soon.

CB: Indeed.

EC: Thank you ever so much.

CB: You are very welcome. And anytime. (Laughter)

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 28 April 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 11 May 2011

Ems interviews reknowned actor and co-founder of the Burmese Theatre Workshop, Andrew McLay

Ems Coombes: So this is quite a new project. It’s called the Artist Treasure Hunt.

Andrew McLay: Hello. Thank you for doing the interview.

If you can tell us a little bit about your practice and what you do, that would be grand?

AM: (Laughter) I’m a director and a writer and an actor. I have my own company called the Burmese Theatre Workshop. It is made up of Burmese actors. We meet once a week at the moment and we devise and write script and we perform.

My work tends to be more physical, more improvised, and looks at themes such as prostitution, poverty... and sometimes it’s political. The play we’re looking at the moment and we’re working on is 'Smile as they Bow' and that’s about transsexual/gay medium and the gay scene in Burma.

EC: Brilliant. You are a disabled artist.

AM: That’s right.

EC: Is your art based on disability? Do you class yourself as a disabled artist? Or an artist that happens to be disabled?

AM: I’m an artist who happens to be disabled. That’s what I am.

EC: Do you find that there is a lot of disabled undertones in your work?

AM: Yes, I mean, there is. A piece I wrote a couple of years ago was about disability and about the effect of being a disabled man. Looking at sexuality as well. I tend to look at sex and disability – which seems to be sort of a taboo. Even amongst the disability world.

The stuff I write tends to be about things I experience. So it will be about disability. It will be about oppression. Sometimes frustration. So that – I do tend to write about and incorporate those things into my work. So I will go to causes. Such as Burma. Because of the oppression that takes place there. But it is something I also feel. I will look at disability issues with Burma as well. Those infected by AIDs or HIV. I will look at those.

EC: I find that in a lot of, you know, the issues that you just mention that you bring up in your thing surrounding your disability, like sex and things like that, they crop up in continuously in disability arts. Which is quite interesting. Yes. That – I think they probably – they probably surround people rather than just disabled people.

AM: Exactly – it affects everybody. And everybody has the same feelings.

EC: Yes, definitely.

What was the first moment that you realised you could do what you want? You could be who you want to be?

AM: It was after my accident. After I became a disabled man. A wheelchair user. I realised. Because I came from – I come from a strict Catholic background.

So I had a lot of Catholicism, a lot of guilt shoved on to me. And after my accident, it was a release. Because I just went, "Fuck off!" (Laughter) “God, what a load of bollocks this all is!”

And at the point, I felt – I can do what I want to do! Because nothing worse can happen to me, you know. And I don’t care what people think about me or feel about me or whatever... because this has happened to me. I’ve nearly died. I’m alive. And that’s it. I’m on this planet for a short period and I will just do, you know.

EC: When did you become disabled?

AM: 1987. I was 21, I think.

EC: Right. That’s quite interesting. Because I find that when you become disabled, the earlier the better. Because you haven’t set up a life for yourself as such.

AM: Yes, that’s right. Yes.

EC: But I imagine that if it happened sort of when you’re older, there isn’t that far to go? There isn’t that much movability – for you to place yourself where you need to go. That’s interesting. That your life started and you realised you could be what you want when you became a disabled person. I find that interesting.

AM: (Laughter)

EC: So you are Andrew McLay. What piece of art - or an artist maybe that you’ve found inspirational?

AM: Frantic Assembly. And the piece of work, 'Stockholm'. I found that quite inspirational.It was physical theatre and they were using the space and the lighting and the dialogue and their bodies in an amazing way. And the sets were quite simplistic. And I thought, “This is just..." It wasn’t dance. It was something else. And it was physical theatre. It was taking something from life, from reality, and making it Art. That’s what it was. And that’s what I liked.

And they’d taken something which is mundane and then using it in the space. And I was thinking, “Oh, God. That’s really beautiful. You know? Oh, that's amazing. And it was doing something to me. I found that really fantastic.

EC: I like the daily matter of fact sort of thing. You know, where you take something - just to bring it back to Strictly Collaborative. Our project at the moment is called 24 Hours In A Day.

So it’s working with that sort of thing. We’re taking routines and regimes and, you know, like boring stuff, and making it more real. And I find that amazingly interesting. I think that it’s overlooked. People think that theatre and performance should be performative. And prescribed and it doesn’t need to be like that at all. Because if you – it’s like people watching. Oh, love people watching. Because there’s always small snippets of performance.

EC: And I think it’s beautiful. Anyone else other than Frantic Assembly?

AM: Well, it will have to be my mum. (Laughter) My mum’s an artist as well. Her name is Lucy McLay. She’s nobody famous. She paints. She's a visual art.

EC: So she’s influential in the way that her art has informed you? Or influential in the way that she’s your mum?

And the only other artist would be Vincent Van Gogh. He’s very – you can look at his painting and you can see the passion there. And that’s what I like to see in a piece of art. Their mind, their body and their soul have gone into it. It’s there.

EC: The thing that interests me about Vincent Van Gogh’s painting as well is, it’s just everyday stuff.

AM: Yes, exactly. That’s right.

EC: It’s just like you were saying. There’s nothing exceptionally exceptional about it. It’s just, you know, Sunflowers. That’s it. I think there maybe – maybe the ordinary is more beautiful than something that is apparently beautiful. You know what they say about people, you know. If you were like a stunner and like gorgeous and people look at you, there is something hollow and base. You know?

You know what they say about beautiful people. And if you’re instantly beautiful, then there is a shallowness. A baseness about yourself. But if you’re quite plain and something, then it, you know, it shines through. And I think having to find the beauty, or seeing the beauty in something that is sort of... Jack Sparrow would say is like 'ugly'. I don’t know why I said Jack Sparrow.

AM: The famous Jack Sparrow.

EC: The famous Jack Sparrow. (Laughter)

EC: Yes, me and Jack go back a long way. (Laughter) So after the last question I will allow you to go home. Maybe. After I lock you in a cupboard.

**AM: **(Laughter)

AM: Three significant changes? Well, one. Well one would have to be my accident.

AM: Well, okay. I had one career in the medical profession. I was a radiographer. And I used to do lots of fitness and teach fitness and stuff like     that as well. And so I saw everybody every person with a disability as a patient. That’s just what I perceived them as. You know. And I would     see them as somebody who was ill. A lesser person. And not very fit.

    And then I had my accident and that made me. (Laughter)

AM: I became that person. Exactly. I became that person. And that’s the reason why – actually, I stopped being a Catholic. So, yes, I became that person.

EC: So not only did it change your life, it also changed your perceptions on everything.

AM: Everything. Exactly. That’s right.

EC: So it changed your perceptions on disability?

AM: Yes.

EC: On religion?

AM: Yes.

EC: On the way you saw people?

AM: Yes, yes. Utterly. Completely. That’s right.

It also gave me more empathy as well. And also it got rid of my inhibitions. (Laughter) That’s what it did. I was somebody who was very, very shy. And after that (Clicks fingers)

EC: Would you say that you became freed?

AM: Yes. It did. It freed me. It did. At the time, I wouldn’t have thought that.

EC: Yes.

AM: I just saw this as, “Oh, God! My life’s over. God! I want to die.” But no. It did. It freed me.

EC: Yay! Right. To be totally honest, I think a number of people that I’ve spoken to feel a very similar way to you.

AM: Oh, okay. That’s interesting.

EC: I am one of them. You know, and I think that you have a different – obviously you have a different outlook if you become disabled. Or if you were born disabled. Probably because we – we see the clouds from both sides now. (Laughter)

AM: Yes, exactly. That’s right. I mean –

EC: To quote Joni – a bit of Joni Mitchell there. As well as Jack Sparrow.

AM: I’m impressed with Joni Mitchell. Yes. I’m quiet impressed with Jack Sparrow as well. (Laughter)

EC: (Laughter) Right, so. Becoming disabled is one significant moment.

AM: Yes.

EC: Number two?

AM: Number two would be my first job as an actor. Yes. That was actually working with Adam Benjamin. We did a piece called 'Staircases'.

And that was very freeing as well. Because he used me in a way which was unusual and the wheelchair as well. And he decided to set the piece on stairs. And I had to go up the stairs. And so he kept me in the wheelchair and he span the chair up. So it kept, you know – he span me up the stairs to get to the top. And I thought, “This is really clever.” (Laughter)

EC: Was this the first time that you’d done anything like out there with your chair?

AM: It was the first time like that, yes, with the chair. Yes.

EC: Adam Benjamin actually did some work with Strictly Collaborative. And we had three or four wheelchair users.

And even Mya who is a dancer. She had never been off all four wheels before. So she was amazed by the stuff that we did. Well, that Adam had done. Not me. I hadn’t done anything.

But I think that – I think that it’s very, very special for disabled people. But wheelchair users mainly. To realise that they are not just four wheels.

AM: Yes, exactly. That’s right.

EC: And I – everyone was amazed by it. But Adam does some really, really amazing work. And from a non-disabled person as well.

AM: He’s very good. Yes. It was I did that in ’97, ’98, I think it was. And that was really an enjoyable experience. Interesting and, again, inspirational. It was the way he used things. Using the staircases and using the lifts. Again, everyday objects. It was really good. And the way he span me up the stairs. And he had everybody there supporting me. Making it look so easy getting up there. And I’m delivering all these lines as well. Dialogue. And it was really good. Yes.

EC: Again, freeing.

AM: Yes, exactly. That’s right.

EC: I think this is what is coming out of a lot of the things I have talked about lately. Is ways to free up your body and mind.

AM: Yes. Yes.

EC: It was interesting what you said about guilt. And being brought up in a Catholic sort of environment with the whole guilt thing. Because I found that, I’ve always been a quite guilty person. I feel guilty at everything. I think the human race, you know, that is what we have on us. We feel guilty for everything. But since I’ve been disabled, I’ve found that I’m still quite guilty. I feel guilty for being – I feel kind of fraudulent. For being disabled but not always disabled. So I have a – you know, I’m just like I’m a bit – I feel a bit guilty.

AM: (Laughter)

EC: But, yes, I think guilt is definitely a good issue to bring up. Not just for disability, as I said, but for just the human condition. If you know what I mean?

AM: Yes, yes, yes.

EC: Right. This is your last significant change, Andrew?

AM: In my life? Well that would be getting married. Meeting my wife. We’ve been together five years.

EC: For all you lovely radio people out in the world, LuWin has joined us. That’s Andrew’s wife. Well, how did you meet or how did that become – so obviously, it’s because you’re beautiful and lovely.

AM: And she’s very supportive and it’s just nice to have somebody who loves you for who you are. Not as a disabled man. A man. As a human being. It’s nice to have that. And it does affect the way you work. And also it sets your priorities. Because you stop thinking about yourself. And you start thinking about somebody else. And that’s always important, I feel.

You can get – as an artist, you can become very self-indulgent. And you get so bogged down. And oh, and that tends – it does tend to affect your art. And when you’ve got somebody else to care about, it’s – it improves your art, I think.

EC: So do you think it influences?

AM: Oh, yes. It does, it does.

EC: With your theatre company as well.

AM: Yes, exactly, that’s right. Yes. And you – and you see another – because LuWin’s from Burma. So another perspective of life as well. So, yes.

EC: Well, Mr McLay. Thank you very much for the interview and for working with us throughout the weekend. I hope to see you again.

AM: I hope so too. It’s been very good. Very enjoyable.

EC: And thank you very much.

AM: Thank you.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 18 April 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 20 May 2011

Ems interviews Garry Robson, Director of Fittings Multimedia Arts

Image - garry_robson.jpg

The Artist's Treasure Hunt

Garry Robson: I loved to perform when I was a kid. But was told fairly early doors that, because I was disabled, there was no point. Because, you could never be an actor, because you’re disabled.

I think I was told that when I was about 12, you know. So my way around that was to be a musician instead. Because nobody cares about musicians to say, you know –

Ems Coombes: Yes, tell me about. (Laughter)

GR: You know what I mean. They can be all sorts of shapes and sizes and whatever. And malfunctions. So I came into it kind of sideways really as a musician.

EC: What was the first inspiration? Whether it was a piece of art work, a practitioner? Maybe it wasn’t even any of them. Maybe you found, I don’t know, a
book or something. Like if there was one thing?

GR: Sure. No, I was thinking about that. And I can trace it back, I think, to when I was about 15, 16. And there was a guy was – you know like people are put down a year sometimes if they were kind of bad or didn't complete the work? And I remember this guy being put down a year. And I think it was because he'd been ill. He was called Alan.

He was a little guy; small stature. And speccy and a bit geeky and a bit strange really. And he introduced me to lots of things. He introduced me to jazz, which was really, you know, at 15, 16 something like that – fairly avant garde jazz. And he introduced me to movies.

EC: Have you got a jazz composer?

GR: Yes. It was kind of two. Coltrane, John Coltrane, and Dave Brubeck actually were the two kind of key ones. And he introduced me to.
And he introduced me to films, like – I’d seen films since I was a kid. I’d come from a film age group. You know, like films were brilliant, you know. But he introduced me to sort of more challenging films if you like.

And I remember in particular Clockwork Orange and If and so – Lyndsey Anderson was a key director for me when I was 15, 16 years old. Which is great. 

So Alan brought this kind of musical thing, the film thing. And also he was big pals with a guy called Bobby who was a kind of folk singer. He used to sing around the pubs and sing mainly trad stuff. And I fell in love with that as well. This notion of just sitting around with a guitar performing in pubs. It could be a great idea. You could sing and drink]. My life’s never been the same since. (Laughter)

EC: That’s what I love doing is, you know, before The History of Lies I was just sort of – I did lots of folk and still I’m into my folk.

GR: Yes, we could say, this is alright. It’s okay. We’ve come out of closets now.

EC: It’s alright. We can admit it now.

GR: Acoustic music was okay. We can admit it. Yes, that’s right. We’re alright now.

EC: Yes, exactly.

GR: We’re alright. (Laughter)

EC: We brought weirdness to the forefront. Which is great.

GR: Absolutely, yes, yes.

EC: But, you know, I find that it’s – it’s quite accepting. Folk music.

GR: Yes, I really found that. And Bobby was terrific. And he’s a bit of a wide boy, you know. But great. And I started performing and singing in pubs when I was like 15, 16, you know, which was terrific.

So Alan was very pivotal for me really. It was only because you asked me the question – you know, you suggested one of the questions, that actually made me think about. And Alan suddenly came into my mind. I’ve not thought about him for years.

EC: Do you remember his surname?

GR: No. I mean, I can vaguely picture him. You know, but – you know.

EC: I think that’s nice to know. Yes.

GR: Yes.

EC: The third question. It’s a third parter. (Laughter)

We all have moments in our lives that changed the direction of our careers or our, well, of our lives basically. You’ve got three pivotal moments in your life, Mr Garry, sir. What were they?

GR: Good God.

EC: Either positive or negative. Because negative have good moments.

GR: Yes. Artistically or just generally?

EC: Artistically or generally. Do you see what I’m doing here? I’m being vague on purpose. So –

GR: Yes, okay. Dear me it’s a tricky one that.

I think artistically was having the confidence to say I was an artist really. I mean that was quite important. And that I had a voice. That I had something to say.

EC: Do you find that you still get a lot of people, especially friends, I find, as well, that will – that you’ll be excited about something that you’re doing and stuff. And they’ll be looking at you as if you are a div. And you didn’t, you know –

GR: No, I don’t really get that anymore. I mean, I think because I’ve been doing it for such a long time that it’s kind of – it’s what I do now, you know.

So I think – I mean, no. Because I don’t – I ignore them anyway. (Laughter) Just, you know, when I’m excited by an idea, I kind of just pitch it everywhere. I talk about it a lot because I find that a way to sort of tease out what I’m about anyway. So I tell people.

No, so I mean, I think actually making some sort of mental decision. Which kind of came from a good friend of mine, Billy, who I was in bands with. Because, you know, I was in bands for years. And Billy was a Glaswegian. A Donegal Glaswegian. A lovely man. We’re still good friends. And he would always talk about going to work, you know, with the band.

And I kind of – yes, that’s great. It is actually, it’s a job, isn’t it? You know, and it’s great. And if you start looking at it like that, then I found it – it’s not a hobby. It’s not a pastime. It’s not something to fill up the hours. It’s actually a job. It’s what you do. It’s your kind of raison d’etre in life.

And from that, it was a small leap to a definition of myself as an artist.

So I think that was kind of important.

Having kids I found really important to me in my life. That changed my life considerably because you have to start thinking about other people.

EC: What age did you have – ?

GR: God, I would have been late 20s I guess. So I wasn’t young. You know, sort of late 20s when I had kids.

That was really important. That was really pivotal.

I think having – getting diabetes actually. (Laughter) Because I was really living a really, really, really poor lifestyle. I mean I was drinking myself stupid and I was doing whatever drugs fell into my lap. And my diet wasn’t very good.

And I just really wasn’t looking after myself at all. I became diabetic.

EC: At what age did you become diabetic?

GR: Oh, God. Again, I don’t know.

EC: Are we talking before your children or after?

GR: It was – oh, no. My kids – I had kids by then. I was not a good dad. You know, I was all over the place really. With bands, you know, because I was working with bands and it was just touring a lot and I was drunk a lot.

I’ve probably been diabetic now getting on 20 years; I think it was just about 20 years ago. Yes.

EC: Strange enough, do you think that saved you?

GR: I do. I honestly think, you know, I’d have been pretty fucked up really. Because I was riding for a fall. You know, physically. And  as it happened, it was a fall that was due. So I had to kind of – used to – I had to start listening to my body really. That’s what you have to do as a diabetic is kind of listen to your body.

And that helped in all sorts of ways. I thought I was going mad. I thought I was going really crazy. And it was a lot to do with just the way my body was. So – yes, that was really important.

EC: And a nice conversation with you and your body.

GR: Yes.

EC: The change instead of you, well – you.

GR: Yes, me, me, me. You know. I’m still a bit me, me, me. You know, (Laughter) people will still tell you. But probably less so than I was then, you know. I was, you know – I was a massive ball of ego. A massive ball of drunken ego. Which is not the most attractive thing in the world really.

Did I mention Ian Dury?

EC: No, you didn’t. But I was actually going to mention him because –

GR: I mean, I know it’s the Ian Dury. He is really pivotal to me.

EC: I was going to say, I think that as – as artists and musicians, we can’t really – we can’t really skirt over him. Because I think he’s really, really important from a poet’s perspective.

GR: Yes, yes. He was a beautiful poet. I love him as a writer, you know. And I mean, I didn’t know he was disabled when I first saw him. I went to see him when I – because he was doing it – in those days, we kind of hid it. And I just thought he was a spindly drunk. You know, like me. So that was alright. I had no idea. And somebody told me he’d had polio. And I said, "What? Fucking hell." You know, same as me. Wow!

EC: Oh, wow. (Laughter)

GR: And then, you know, watched him I guess with another eye. And then his writing, you know, once he came to terms with talking about his disability and discussing it. And being an advocate, I guess. In a way.

I grew to love him even more. Tremendous. Spasticus Autisticus

EC:  Spastic is fantastic.

GR: That’s the best statement ever still.

EC: Yes, totally. Totally. "I hobble when I wobble."

GR: "My middle is a riddle." (Laughter)

EC: Is a riddle indeed. Indeed. I just – I think it’s very important.

GR: Do you like my orange shoes -  my Tigers. I just I want to get those on film.

EC: They’re beautiful.

GR: Thank you, darling.

EC: They’re beautiful.

GR: Thank you.

EC: Just thought I’d let people know –

GR: Marvellous. Great.

EC: – how lovely your shoes are.

GR: Thank you very much.

EC: But I think it’s really, really important to have disabled role models. And I think Ian Dury’s great. Because he – how can I put this? He had sort of an invisible impairment. But it wasn’t an invisible impairment.

GR: No, no. It really wasn’t, I don’t think. 

And I mean, role models is a funny old business. And I know what you’re saying. He was a bit of a bastard really. He was a bit of a, you know – a bit of a misogynist and whatever. So I wouldn’t say he was role model. I just liked what he did. I liked his music. I liked the way he looked. I liked the fact he was a cripple. And he was out there.

EC: And the fact he was doing what he wanted to do.

GR: Yes.

EC: You know. And had his own style as well, you know. If you listen to loads of the tracks. Like My Old Man as well.

GR: Yes, beautiful.

EC: Absolutely beautiful. The lyrics are just so normal and, you know, it could easily be a piece of prose.

GR: Yes. That’s a great poetry. It’s like a conversation.

EC: Exactly.

GR: It’s lovely.

EC: It’s just – it’s –

GR: Well every night, you know, because it was in ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful’ as you know, at Stratford East and Ipswich. And Stephen that – a lovely young actor, who would sing that every night. And there just wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It’s a great poem – it’s great.

EC: I think he’s very – I don’t know. I – from when I first found out – when I first found out he was a polio sufferer, I don’t know –

GR: Victims. We’re called victims. Polio victims.

EC: I don’t want to call him – no I got told – I got emailed by someone when I was first disabled.

GR: I kind of like that. I like being a victim. I’m a polio victim. (Laughter)

EC: But people told me I’m not allowed to be a stroke victim.

GR: No, no.

EC: I’m not allowed to be a stroke victim. I’m –

GR: That’s because we’ve monopolised it. Because polio’s –

EC: Oh, alright. You’re taking it back. (Laughter)

GR: We are. We are reclaiming victim. Polio victim is me.

EC: (Laughter)

GR: Cool. Is that it?

EC: Yes. I think that is that.

GR: Good.

EC: Thank you very much for taking part in An Artist’s Treasure Hunt.

GR: Ems, it’s such a pleasure. And Ems, really lovely working with you these last couple of days. Thank you.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 1 April 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 20 May 2011

Poem inspired by Sovay Berrimen's New Voices workshop

'From Another Side' was a performance I wrote about my experiences of having a stroke when I was 17. I would like to revamp it and bring it back into reality but I am scared. I have been thinking about it for ages but the fear is to strong at the moment.

There are a lot of things that I would love to do but i don't know how others will feel, whether they will want me to disturb there life. I am turning into a wimp in my old age. FEEL THE FEAR BUT DO IT ANYWAY.

From Another Side
Throw 'em in at the deep end
Fulfil their stereotypes
Own the taboos
Feel the Fear
'What a tragic life she's had'
So young as well'

A girl lost
into a woman...
still lost,
But this time in a world she gets
The same world
but now WITH BALLS
Big hairy ones.

Break this tension
I'm getting too hot and flustered
'is this it, dunt she go on!'
'Well missy, think about your own life
the trials and tribulations
we ain't that different!'

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 14 February 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 20 May 2011

On being a disabled person

Image - ems_coombes.jpg

When I was 17, I had a brain haemorrhage and a stroke. I had never worked with a disabled person. In no way did I think of myself as a disabled person. Even though I used a walking stick. Which is a lovely signifier of disability.

The first time I realised I was a disabled person was about four or five years later when I was at university. And we did a project with The Priory, which is the Community of St Mark and St Elias in Totnes, which does work integrating mentally and physically disabled adults back into the community again.

I realised from working with these people that if all hadn’t gone as well with the operation when I had the haemorrhage, that I could very easily be in their place. And that was not a mirror image but, you know, I was looking at what could easily have been my life.

So that was when I actually discovered that I was disabled. Even though, as I said, I used a walking stick, I was very slow, I can’t walk very well, I can’t handle steps very well. Although I have found that I’m getting better with time. Now that when I get used to it and know what I can do and my limitations.

But after the discovery of the guys and girls in the Priory, I decided to learn what it meant to be disabled. What it meant for me to have a stroke. Was there a place for me in the arts world? Which is when I discovered disability arts. And then everything fit into place.

And, you know, I know that being put or putting yourself in a box is not, you know – I’m talking stereotypes now; not literally putting yourself in a box. But, if you put yourself into these – into one of these categories, into one of these boxes, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Without me putting myself into the disability box, if you will, I wouldn’t know what – wouldn’t have known who I was. I wouldn’t have known what I was capable of. I would still be trying to keep up with the non-disabled people that I see. Which I still find myself doing sometimes - trying to keep up with everything, everyone else. Because I think that’s the right thing to do. Whereas I should let myself be me.

So, it was probably a good thing for me to put myself in that box. Because it’s a box where I feel comfortable. And where I don’t feel that I have to try to become someone that I’m not. I can be as kookie as I want to be.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 9 February 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 20 May 2011

The birth of Strictly Collaborative

I had never worked with any disabled people. But then I found myself a disabled person. I found it difficult to understand why people didn't know how to react to me once I had become a disabled person.

I also found it really frustrating and thought it was a shame because I couldn’t see why that would be. It makes no sense to me why we’ve been – we’ve been sort of kept in our own environments and not brought together. So that we know – we know how we each other works.

And I went to the Barbican Theatre in Plymouth. And I said to them, “Look, I’ve been trained at Dartington.” And I told them the issue with the benefits. And the fact that I was a creative person and I had no outlet for it. And I told them also about the disability. And Sheila Snellgrove, the director of the Barbican Theatre, said to me, “You have to go away and you have to come back to me with one idea.”

And I went a way that night and thought, “What do I want out of my career?” Or, “What do I want out of life?” You know, what is this thing that I need. And it was integration. It was – I needed there to be some sort of level playing field for both disabled and non-disabled people to work in a safe, creative environment where they could create a voice. And that’s how Strictly Collaborative came about.

But at first, I thought it was just going to be a drama group. And as I looked around on the internet and everything for a similar model, I realised that there was nothing. You know, from Bristol downwards, I couldn’t find a theatre group that was inclusive. Strictly inclusive. There wasn’t a non-disabled group around to let disabled people in, if they wanted to join.

Because they don’t advertise themsleves as being integrated. You know, disabled people do not look at what they have going on and think, “This is a place for us.” They go, “Oh, it’s for non-disabled people. So I thought this has got to happen and it became a company and not just a group.

People – disabled people need to know that it is for them. Yes? But non-disabled still need to know that it is for them as well. So inclusive, not integrated. Integrated is not disabled-led. See, I’ve done my research on this. Integrated isn’t disabled-led. Inclusive means it is a disabled-led inclusive group. And Strictly Collaborative, because it’s strictly collaborative.

There is no inclusivity in Plymouth. And even though I’ve also found out that a lot of people say that they are sort of integrated or inclusive, you know, “Oh, we would – we would let disabled people in.” Like, well, that’s fair enough. But it’s not inclusive. If it was inclusive, you’d have – you wouldn’t just have one disabled person. You would openly be inviting people in so that they know that they are welcome.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 1 February 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 20 May 2011

Counterproductive or pondorously objective?

After two and a half years of continuous worrying, organising, feeling indebted and, of course, enormous pride in my accomplishments (although at times I forget the pride) I am now staring at a ginormous brick wall. It's an emotional and creative brick wall and it will not budge not matter how hard I hit it... and there is no going round it this time. Yikes!

Every time I settle down to write, an artistic policy, for example, something more important is always there. Washing up is very important, I do it in stages and clean the house a bit in between, I leave the darned cutlery till last, this makes me feel uber productive so I make a coffee to celebrate and then stare blankly at the computer screen awaiting karmas warm blast of professionalism after my 'good deed' and receive... a big fat nothing! Pah!

I read an article by Bobby Baker whilst at university which filled me with hope. Ms Baker is also a freelance artist and, as I discovered recently while trawling through the Sync website, a Disabled Artist, would you Adam and Eve it! She explained how it was difficult to work at home, the distractions etc. but it is just as difficult to go about your daily life as your practise infiltrates that too. Nevertheless we are creative types and our ideas know no bounds.

They are not choosy about when they creep into our heads, we do not work 9 – 5 but, on the other hand, we can have a coffee when we want, we make our own decisions and then designate. Unfortunately, no matter how much sense Ms Baker makes, how much confidence she gave me, it will not get my work done!

In fact as I speak to you, it is two days before the deadline and, yet again I am behind time and fretting about getting everything that I have needed to do for ages done before I do everything else which is more important. Phew!

Priorities! I must get them straight, don’t get me wrong I do lists, lots of them. And I cross them off as I do them but there are always half a list of uncrossed items which fuel my depression at my own lack of stamina and professionalism. I have even made a laminated weekly timetable (ooh get me) alas I haven’t stuck by it.....

I want to be organised. But wanting something so badly and feeling that it will change your life if you get it usually leads to more disappointment... so what do I do?

mmm... well after some deliberation, an awful lot, I am going to risk just being myself, I think I am best at doing that. Panicking is unproductive. Lying about who I am is not truthful, so I am going to take a leaf out of Ms Bakers' book and do what I want, work from what I know about. I understand that I am going to have to do what I don’t want sometime but, what I always say... “Swings, roundabouts and Lemonade Sparkles innit.”

Maz was right

My head's a mess
Crammed full of 'ifs and buts'
My ideas are rife
But I haven't got a clue of what i'm doing here
I feel like i'll go insane
If I don't just let go
This impatience is a pain
And counter-productive I know.

Take the time
Try to bridge the gap
Take your own advice
Cut the crap

No 'what if's'
Its just the here and now we're after
Adaptability is the key
Don't play your cards so close to your chest
Don't get me wrong
I'm enjoying the ride
It's just the headspace that I'm in
Not forgetting my stubborn pride

Take the time
Try to bridge the gap
Take your own advice
Cut the crap

The mirror's cracked
That mask you wear is slipping
Stop underestimating people
Hold that mirror up to yourself
Look around you
Nothing's going wrong
Keep you're feet firmly on the ground
From now on.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 27 January 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 20 May 2011