GASP: Emotional and thought-provoking theatre

Guest post from Ben Miles – Creative Director at Full House

This year’s production, GASP, was the sixth collaboration between Bedford-based professional theatre company Full House and young disabled actors from Bedford and District Cerebral Palsy Society.

BedFringe theatre festival

But this year was very different. Instead of a light-hearted, 25-strong cast on a summer school, eight young disabled people wanted to express their creativity and get their message across in a gritty and emotional studio piece. The young people leave school this year and move on to adult services so emotions were running high. The cast asked themselves questions about what was next? What they hoped for the future? What were their fears and what excites them about a bright new future outside of school?

Over a period of eight weeks the young people and the team from Full House came together to explore new ideas, express emotions and have new experiences with the aim of creating a contemporary performance piece. The final production was performed at two venues. The Hat Factory in Luton and Bedford’s The Place Theatre as part of the BedFringe theatre festival in July.

Martial arts, physical theatre and movement

The performance used media, martial arts, fantasy storytelling, physical theatre and movement to tell the story of a fish breaking free from its bowl and journeying to the ocean. The young people were encouraged to explore exactly what they wanted to express and this lead to a wonderfully varied and visually stimulating piece of theatre. Elements of performance ranged from: a rapper performing urban music written by a cast member, a scene set in a pub in which three young men expressed their wish to let loose and make their own choices, an abstract fantasy of a young girl who dreamed of becoming Snow White and a very brave young actor who chose to express to camera how he felt about his uncertain future and his love of his family. All this was punctuated by three dramatic sequences of African drumming. The beautiful, simple set and subtle lighting contributed wonderfully to the thought-provoking and abstract world that the cast created.

Audiences were staggered by their achievements. The young cast did a wonderful job. Some of them had never performed before and had to over come severe stage fright, others were simply overwhelmed when at last their voices were heard and their opinions expressed through art and music.

Review of GASP

Guest post from Judy Riley – Full House trustee and local arts journalist at the Beds on Sunday

GASP drummer

I just wanted to share my thoughts on this show. I went to see GASP in Bedford at 12.30pm on Saturday, July 21 on what was then the hottest day of the year so far.

I took my husband, my sister and her husband along. While my husband knew what kind of experience he would be likely to have, having seen Cirque Fantastique last year, my sister and her husband had only a sketchy idea of what was in store.

Whereas the impressions that I was left with of Cirque Fantastique were of fun, exuberance, positivity and brightness, at this performance of GASP, in the darkened space of The Place theatre, the atmosphere was altogether more focused and profound. Yes, there was fun; yes, there was energy but it was an experience that went much deeper into the souls and deepest feelings of the young performers involved. It was one of the most moving shows I have ever seen – and I’ve seen a few! The actors were given the opportunity to explore their hopes, fears and dreams in a challenging way but it never felt as though they were being patronised or marginalised. The filmed excerpts were incredibly powerful and the drumming exciting and liberating.

Bedford and District Cerebral Palsy Society actors

As for the input of the Full House practitioners I can honestly say that it was amazing. The sensitivity that Ben, Harriet and the other actor/musicians – displayed was exceptional. I will never forget Ben, through his eyes and his spirit, wordlessly encouraging young actors with massive speech problems to articulate their innermost thoughts. Moving soundlessly across the stage, each member of the team guided the Bedford and District Cerebral Palsy Society actors purposely but with utter thoughtfulness through the action. The show was uplifting and wholly enlightening; anyone who saw it will have been touched by something very special.

I am known for being reduced to a soggy pool of tears at the slightest provocation so it comes as no surprise that I was reduced to racking great sobs within minutes of the show starting but Chris had to wipe his eyes at the curtain call, as did my brother-in-law – and my sister got through at least a handy pack of Kleenex too.

GASP was an inspirational show – not only, I’m sure, for those young actors who took part – but also for every member of that audience.

Congratulations Full House: for me, it’s what being involved with the company is all about…

Extract from GASP

GASP was the sixth collaboration between Bedford-based professional theatre company Full House and young disabled actors from Bedford and District Cerebral Palsy Society.

Young disabled actor

Here is a short extract from their work:

GASP

Through rounded glass and waters blue

You see me and I see you.

You look in and I look out

You tap the glass, I dart about.

And swim and swim in circles here

Familiar waters safe and near

But on occasions I dare to dream

Of a babbling brook, a bubbling stream

Where beyond your watch I’d be

But might learn out there to swim free.

New waters deep and dark to swim

Where a new kind of journey might begin

New places, different possibilities

The rushing river, the endless seas

And though I am safe here my bowl inside

That big wide world from which I hide

If I am to swim the way I could

I must leave this sphere of glass for good

So one day soon the time will be

When you will have to set me free

And finally from your gentle grasp

I’ll wriggle free, I’ll jump and gasp…

Read a review of GASP.