Tag Archives: theatre

Poor accessibility can lead to isolation, but this theatre company is changing that

Pippa works on Scope’s online community and is also an accessible theatre blogger. The festive season seems to be filled with activities but when they aren’t accessible, disabled people and families are often left out. This can be very isolating. For our What I Need to Say campaign, Pippa spoke to Erin, whose company DH Ensemble is leading the way in accessible theatre.  

Going to the theatre is an experience enjoyed and cherished by many families, especially during the festive season. However, like many other activities, theatres and shows often fail to be wholly inclusive of disabled people.

Although the accessibility of venues is improving, content isn’t always suitable for people with specific disabilities. However, one theatrical company with inclusivity at its heart is The DH Ensemble (previously called The Deaf & Hearing Ensemble). I talked to Erin Siobhan Hutchings about their new show.

Based on Erin’s own experiences of growing up with her deaf sister, ‘People of the Eye’ features Deaf and hearing cast members and uses stunning visuals to create an immersive experience for all.

Accessibility is a forethought, not an afterthought

Accessibility is built into the aesthetic, so deaf and hearing audiences can enjoy the show on an equal basis. For example, we use integrated sign-language as well as creative captioning, so whether you’re relying on that to access a performance or not, it brings so much more to your understanding of the world and the characters. I think that makes the work so much more interesting. It adds layers to the narrative and the way that you tell the story and connect with the audience.

Whilst the show was primarily designed with D/deaf and hearing audiences in mind, we also strive to ensure that venues where the show are performed are wheelchair-accessible. The production team also take precautions to ensure that audiences are aware of the visual effects beforehand, by sending out resources including descriptions of lighting effects and images of the projections used to those who request them.

Two women on a stage in front of the words '2 player mode'

Being excluded can be really isolating

The story is about myself and my sister growing up but it could easily be replaced with many other disabled people’s stories. The crux of the story is about families, relationships and isolation, and how important it is that we accept each other.

Deafness isn’t necessarily a disability that cuts you off physically or intellectually, but it’s isolation that can really affect people who have hearing loss. It’s that inability to communicate in a social situation that can be really isolating and that’s something that I noticed with my sister growing up.

We’ve tried to really show that in a way that puts the audience in that position, so some feedback we’ve had from audience members is that maybe a hearing person might not understand everything that happens in the play but that’s an important experience for them to have, they get some insight into that feeling of isolation themselves.

What I would really like people to take away is a little bit of empathy about the way that other people live their lives, and some idea about isolation and communication and how important that is. Then hopefully they’ll take that out with them into the world and influence the other spaces they go into.

Making theatre more accessible

It’s important that we’re all realistic about the diverse world that we live in. We’re a co-led deaf and hearing company and we strive to maintain that.

People understand that it may not be possible to make every single show accessible for everybody, but if you’re open to discovering what can make your work accessible, that’s a start. It’s better to ask people who really live the experience and get their feedback. I went to an interesting discussion with deaf and disabled artists recently where this was addressed.

Accessibility shouldn’t just be a tick-box exercise – put on a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreted show and do one relaxed performance and that’s it. That’s not really exploring the depth of how we can make sure our theatrical environment and all aspects of our society are welcoming for everybody, and that people can feel equal to everybody else.

As accessible theatre continues to slowly improve, it is the innovative work of companies such as The DH Ensemble that are really making strides in helping to address isolation and ensure that theatre really is becoming more inclusive for all.

The DH Ensemble is led by Jennifer K. Bates, Stephen Collins, Sophie Stone and Erin Siobhan Hutching. You can see People of the Eye in 2018:

  • 23 March Harlow Playhouse
  • 26 March Arlington Arts Centre
  • 7 April Nottingham Playhouse

Find out more about DH Ensemble and People of the Eye and get involved with our What I Need to Say Campaign.

My role on Holby City helps change attitudes about autism – Jules

30 under 30 logo

This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Jules is an actor and a regular on Holby City. He also happens to have Asperger syndrome, which is a form of autism.

As part of 30 Under 30, we chatted to him about acting, attitudes and how Access All Areas helped him break into the industry.

My love of acting came from watching a lot of Steve Martin movies which made me feel really good. I also loved going to the theatre and the cinema. I watched lots of films and always thought I’d like to do something like that. Acting made me feel good about myself. I think that really inspired me.

I did a course through Access All Areas, who also now act as my agent. I made some good friends during that time and it was a really good experience because it helped my acting. I improved so much. It meant I could get to the next level.

Landing a role on Holby City

I got an audition thanks to Access All Areas who also now act as my agent. I was fabulous (as always!) and I passed the audition with flying colours. It was very challenging at the beginning because I was walking into something completely new. As the months went on I became comfortable and settled in well and I actually really like it now. I think I’ve come a long way in the last year. I always jump out of bed with enthusiasm, even though I’m leaving at half 6 in the morning.

I play Jason Haynes. He has a different type of Asperger’s to myself. I think he’s a lot geekier than I am. He’s a very nice man but he lacks confidence. I feel like I’m playing a completely different person. That’s why it’s interesting. It’s really fun on set with the cast and crew. It’s a long day but it’s good. I always feel very proud of myself at the end of the day. I feel like I’ve tried my best and done a good job. I like that lots of parents with autistic children have enjoyed it. It’s a great thing that I’ve been able to do.

Jules, a young disabled man, plays a character smiling and lying in a hospital bed on Holby City

I hope attitudes in the industry get better

There was a point where I was very frustrated with the industry because I was seeing all these films that had a character with autism and it was so often played by a neuro-typical person. In Rain Man and Black Balloon, for example, the actors in those two films don’t have the condition. It’s frustrating that directors and producers don’t do enough research because there are people out there with the conditions that can play these parts.

It’s important for disabled actors to play disabled characters, and I think they can play characters who don’t have a condition too. I want the industry to be a little bit more understanding and to not ignore autistic talent like it has done for far too long. I would say it’s improving now but it could get a lot better.

I think it’s really good that shows like Holby City are starting to look into diversity more. When I first started I saw one negative comment on Facebook, someone who followed the show who didn’t understand Asperger’s. But everyone else has been really supportive.

It’s great to have role models

Steve Martin, John Travolta and Morgan Freeman are some of my favourite actors, and Kevin Spacey, Tim Robbins, Jeff Bridges – I’ve got lots. Jim Carrey as well. All these people make me so excited to be an actor and it’s really great to have these role models because I happen to think that actors and comedians are the best people in the world.

I hope that I’m seen as a role model. I hope that I’m encouraging people with other conditions or people who are on the spectrum and have autism or mild learning difficulties. If they watch me on Holby City I hope I’m showing them that it can happen for them and they shouldn’t lose faith and hope. I’m sure they can do it if they put their mind to it.

I think that I’ve done a good job at making people more aware of autism and making it relevant in the acting world. I’m showing that if people with autism want to do this kind of work they can, and it’s not impossible.

My advice for other young disabled actors

Keep a positive frame of mind and try your best. Of course there will be hard times but you’ll get through it. Try your very best to get where you want to go. Sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you want but maybe it just takes time.

Holby City has been the highlight of my career. It’s a very rewarding job and I’m hoping that it will lead to other work in the future. It’s been my first big break really. I’d love to do movies here and in America, more TV and theatre. I’d like to do a whole variety of things.

Jules is sharing his story as part of 30 Under 30. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Keep up to date with all of our new stories on our 30 under 30 page.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish” – Francesca, the theatre star

Francesca Mills is a 20 year old actor who has achondroplasia, a common form of dwarfism. She is currently on tour with a Ramps on the Moon production,of the Government Inspector where she plays Maria.

As part of our 30 Under 30 campaign, she talks about inclusiveness in the industry and her top tips for breaking into the world of theatre.

Kids who are interested in performing arts and children who have gone to drama school are much more open-minded and much more accepting. They just love anything diverse. So this meant that breaking into the industry was never an issue for me. No-one has ever been like ‘you can’t do that because you’re disabled’, my family and friend are always 100% behind me.

Changing attitudes

I think roles in theatre for disabled people are very important in changing attitudes towards disability.

Audiences are very accepting without realising it. If you’re out on the street just living everyday life, you’ll get stares and people don’t quite understand but if you walk on stage playing a character, it’s different. Maybe in the first two minutes an audience member might be thinking ‘oh that’s a little person’, but then they’ve completely forgotten and they’re completely on board with what you’re doing.

It may also make them think ‘why do I over-think this? Disability really isn’t a big thing, it’s fine’.

It’s also really important for kids to see disabled actors represented in roles of authority. In the show I’m doing now we have a deaf judge, who’s also a woman, which is brilliant.

A group of disabled actors perform on stage. Fran, a young woman with dwarfism, smiles as a man with a cane kisses her hand.

How the industry has changed

I’m growing up in a time where people are starting to realise they should do projects that are inclusive. I’m lucky in a way that I’ve mainly seen the positive. People older than me have memories of a lot more prejudice. They’ve had a much more tough time which is good to know about because people can appreciate how it’s changed and how things are getting better.  It’s on the way up.

From my experience, a lot of casting directors are becoming more versatile and opening their gates to disabled actors for parts that aren’t specifically disabled parts. If they have a brief for a blonde haired girl with blue eyes, they might open it up to someone with an impairment and it’s not an issue.

I think we’ve still got a long way to go but it’s better than what it was.

Advice for others

If you really want to do it, just go for it, even if people question it. My motto is ‘a goal without a plan is just a wish’. If you want to get into acting think about how you’re going to do that.

Get involved in local amateur productions just to get some confidence, like I used to do. See if local theatres are auditioning. If you’ve got an appetite for it just go for it and everything else will fall into place.

Just have fun and enjoy it because it really is the best job in the world.

Top tips for breaking into the industry

Enjoy yourself

Have fun and let people know that you’re having fun, it’s really nice to see! I did Peter Pan in Wimbledon. I was playing Tinkerbell and there were kids playing the Lost Boys. Just seeing their faces when they were in the theatre and how excited they were was amazing. It’s just a really nice quality to have.

Go to the theatre

It’s important to go to actual shows and enjoy shows and see as many as you can.

Learn from everyone

Watch people and learn from them. With the amount of actors that you come across, make sure you ask questions. Watch their technique and etiquette. You can pick up a lot from people.

Never be late!

I’m ridiculous with how early I am. It makes you more relaxed when you get to the theatre and have plenty of time. Never leave anything until the last minute. Give yourself time to settle ahead of a brilliant day.

A large group of disabled actors perform on stage in a theatre. They are looking out to the audience with shocked faces.

Francesca is sharing her story as part of our 30 Under 30 campaign. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Read more from our #30toWatch on our website.

Watch Francesca perform in one of our End The Awkward shorts from last year.

 

Disabled Artistic Director talks about his work and the importance of inclusion

Robert Softley Gale is an Artistic Director at Glasgow-based theatre company, Birds of Paradise. He’s been acting and working in theatre for 15 years.

For World Theatre Day, he talks about his work and why inclusion is so important.

Getting in to theatre

I was at Glasgow University studying Business Management and I got a phone call from a theatre company in Edinburgh looking to employ disabled actors. At that point I’d never done any performing so I thought there’s no way I’ll get this job. I’d done a bit of amateur theatre but only ever backstage – directing or writing, stuff like that. But I was your typical cocky 21-year-old so I thought I’d give it a go, and I got the job. After that I just kept going.

Creating my own work

The amount of opportunities for disabled actors have come and gone over the years. I felt if I wanted to keep working I had to start creating my own work. I worked with the National Theatre in Scotland on a piece called ‘Girl X’ which did well, and I did a one-man show called ‘If These Spasms Could Speak’ that toured all over the world. When the job at Birds of Paradise came up, I felt ready to go in to making more of my own work and on a bigger scale.

I think there’s much more pressure on disabled artists. If I make something that’s crap, people go “oh he’s disabled, of course it’s crap”, but overall it’s a great challenge.

Making the arts more accessible

There are so many barriers for disabled people to work in the arts. A lot of it is attitudinal. People just don’t think disabled people can do the job. As a disabled actor there will be things you can’t do – but everyone has limitations. Every actor brings what they have to a role.

I worked for the Scottish Arts Council for two years, helping organisations become more accessible. When that role came to an end I set up flip with a colleague, to continue that. When organisations are advertising for roles, for example, where do they advertise? Do they say that they want to employ disabled people? If you don’t say that specifically, a lot of potential disabled employees will presume that the company won’t want them, because that’s been their experience over the years.

It’s also about expanding their networks. A lot of directors in Scotland say “I want to employ disabled actors but I don’t know any”. Well get off your bum and meet some – I can introduce you to about forty! On the whole, organisations want to do better. There’s just a lot of fear around getting it wrong and because of that, some people would rather do nothing.

Why it’s important that the industry is inclusive

I think the visibility of disabled artists is going to change attitudes generally. The fact that there are now disabled characters in soaps is a massive step forward. It normalises disabled people. They’re part of society so they should be part of film, TV, theatre or whatever. Disabled people’s stories haven’t been heard, so by putting us on stage, you’re putting our stories on stage. And that creates more interesting, more dynamic theatre that’s better for everyone.

I imagine a lot of non-disabled people think that if you’re disabled, all you’re ever thinking about is your disability but it’s not the case. It would be so boring if it was! To me, talking about gender or sexuality or politics, any of these things, it’s how we become more human and more real to people. That’s what I try to do with the work I make. Because if non-disabled people can look at us and go “well actually you’re not that different from me”, then we can change their perspective.

Robert’s latest show – Purposeless Movements – has been touring in Scotland.

‘Wendy Hoose’ by Johnny McKnight runs at the Soho Theatre, London from 12 April to 7 May. 

A fresh ‘voice’ in theatre

32 year old Kate Caryer has cerebral palsy, no speech and uses a communication aid. She co-runs The Unspoken Project CIC, a company that is currently fundraising for the stage premier of Speechless, a unique coming-of-age play about someone without speech.  

Kate believes it’s time that the authentic voice of disabled people is heard and what better day than World Theatre Day on 26 March to make a pledge to make it happen.

My name is Kate Caryer and I am a rude, pink-haired theatre lover, who also happens to have cerebral palsy and no speech.

I use a communication aid to speak (think a punk Stephen Hawking), but the words that come out of my computer will quickly shatter any stereotypes you might have about disabled people.

Alongside my mate, Paul C. Mooney, trained actor and director, I run The Unspoken Project CIC.

A poster for the Unspoken CIC theatre group

We are an inclusive theatre company set up to give opportunities to disabled and non-disabled actors, writers and theatre-makers. We also believe that it is time to hear the real voices of disabled people, beyond the sob stories about pitiable, pathetic caricatures, desperate to ‘overcome’ their tragic disabilities.

Our first major drama production Speechless – written by me – intends to set the story straight.

The story of Speechless

Kate with her cast members

Speechless tells the tale of Rebecca Walker, a teenager with cerebral palsy and no speech nor access to the communication support to allow her devious teenage thoughts to be heard.

Like most teenagers, she is keen to rebel against her parents, and craves the freedom of being an adult. We follow Rebecca on a journey of dark humour and disabled villains to arrive at an important conclusion: you don’t need speech to have a voice.

Will Eddie Redmayne be playing the teenage protagonist? For once, all the disabled parts will be played by disabled actors – company policy for the inclusive theatre company.

Speechless provides opportunities for disabled actors to be part of a professional production that tells their stories from their own perspectives.

The Unspoken Project CIC, is currently fundraising for the premier of Speechless. It is time the authentic voice of disabled people is heard. For more information, or to pledge to support this project, please visit our Kickstarter page.

The Unspoken Project also provides opportunities for disabled performers through their variety nights, quiz nights and workshops in schools. Our Rude Games Night is coming up on 21 April from 8pm in the Clisshold Arms, 105 Fortis Green, East Finchley, London, N2 9HR. All welcome. Over 18s only!

As a short actor, I want to break down the height barrier – #EndtheAwkward

Guest post from Francesca Mills, who stars in our ‘What Not to Do… In a Job Interview’ film, co-produced with Channel 4. She has dwarfism, and previously appeared in ITV hidden camera prank show Off Their Rockers.

It’s amazing what people will believe. In Off Their Rockers, a sketch show where we pranked members of the public, I managed to convince customers at a launderette that the boss let me take home all the clothes that shrunk in the wash.

I even told them that if I saw something I liked going into the dryer, I’d cheekily turn the temperature up so it would shrink! The two women whose reactions eventually aired were totally on board with it.

My work on Off Their Rockers led me to get a part on Scope and Channel 4’s short film, ‘What Not to Do… In a Job Interview’. In it, I and another actor get into all sorts of trouble because of his awkwardness around my height.

Filming What Not to Do…

The other woman in the interview had no idea what was going on. She was a businesswoman who was used to doing mock interviews on video, and we’d told her she would be helping out a big company with their staff training.

By halfway through, she was starting to get very flustered! She kept smiling at me, but because she was there to do a job she kept quiet – which is fair enough, because it was all quite light.

Sam, the ‘interviewer’, was brilliant. I found it so hard to keep a straight face most of the day. Between takes we’d go into the other room and just break down laughing, it was so funny.

Awkwardness in my life

I’m quite young, so I haven’t experienced many situations like the job interview yet. Certainly no one has ever picked me up and put me on a chair!

Fran and a male actor talking, both sitting behind a table
Fran and Sam in our What Not To Do film

But you do get lots of situation where, like Sam’s character, people are scared of putting a foot wrong. They get really conscious of what they’re saying.

Sam represented that really well, because you could see the fear in his eyes. He really didn’t want to offend me, and that’s why he was getting so worked up. He was just trying to handle it the best way he could.

That’s why the film is so good – because it makes people realise, ‘Oh, actually I don’t have to freak out every time I’m talking to a disabled person.’ We have exactly the same sense of humour as everyone else, and we actually won’t be too fazed if someone’s being awkward.

Breaking down the height barrier

I just moved to London about two weeks ago. In November I start rehearsals for Peter Pan at the New Wimbledon Theatre; I’ll be playing Tinkerbell, which is very exciting.

In the future, I’d love to do a serious play, or a musical – anything, really! I’m enjoying the diversity of the jobs I’m doing at the moment.

But I do think all short actors want to try and break down the idea that short actors can’t be used for ‘tall’ acting jobs.

Warwick Davis, whom I’ve worked with, is a real inspiration – for example, he appeared in Spamalot in a role that could have gone to someone of any height, because he’s proved himself.

We’re all striving for the same thing: to get casting directors thinking about employing short people for roles where no reference is made to them being short. Where it’s just accepted.

Watch all six shorts now on Scope’s YouTube channel. Do you have a similar awkward story to share? Email stories@scope.org.uk

My life as performer with a learning difficulty

Guest post from Cian Binchy, a 25-year-old writer and performer from London who has autism. His one-man show, The Misfit Analysis, premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe festival last month.

If somebody asked me, ‘Can you describe autism?’ I would say that question doesn’t make sense. Everyone experiences autism in a different way, and at the end of the day, I can only really describe my own autism.

Cian, a young man wearing a Beatles T-shirt, on a London street
Cian in Dalston, London, last month

When you have Asperger’s syndrome, you are on the very, very able end of autism and in many ways you’re almost like everyone else. But there’s just something little in you that is stopping you, and singles you out from other people. It’s very frustrating.

People think if you’ve got ‘high functioning’ autism you can cope in any situation, and that’s not true at all. I’m always struggling.

I became a performer because I want to educate people about the struggles that people in my position go through.

I want to entertain people, but I also want to make them think. I want people to really experience some of my art and some of the stuff that goes through my mind – and for people to be a bit more understanding of the kind of issues that people with autism have.

My show at the Edinburgh Fringe

The Misfit Analysis is basically about the struggles that I’ve had with autism, particularly as a young adult between 16 and 20 – not having much luck with going to colleges or getting work; failing to have a relationship.

It’s not really a straightforward play; it’s more of a performance, if that makes sense. There is audience participation, there are some videos, but predominantly it is a one-man show.

It’s humorous. It’s dark. It’s a bit twisted. It’s unorthodox. It’s funny. It’s a bit sad. It’s a bit scary. It’s educational. It’s thought-provoking. And it’s all based on my own experiences.

You’re either going to be laughing your head off or be freaked out!

I hope it’ll help people learn that autism is quite unpredictable and complicated, and that you can never be an expert on autism. I would like them to do a bit of research on autism and maybe get more involved in it – and take autism out of the ghetto, bring it into the mainstream.

Because a performer with a learning difficulty, I am in a minority within a minority. There are many disabled performers, but hardly any that actually have a learning difficulty.

Disabled people in the arts

Unfortunately, the performance art world is a very tough place for anyone, especially people with learning difficulties.

Cian sitting on the floor next to a wheelchair, holding a toy windmill and a tragedy mask
Cian in a promotional shot for The Misfit Analysis

I was a consultant on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time at the National Theatre, basically teaching the lead actor, Luke Treadaway, how to behave like someone who is autistic.

He was really good, but the sad thing is that often people who actually have got autism don’t really get a chance to perform. They don’t get a chance to go to a decent drama school; they don’t get the right education for that kind of performance. I actually wasn’t even getting paid for doing this work.

Whereas when you see me perform, it’s real. In my show I am actually performing my own disability – so when you see me, and when you see the kind of stuff I do, like spinning a tin opener, it’s real. It’s not just an act.

Cian is working with Access All Areas, a theatre company which produces work by disabled artists. Read a review of his show in the Guardian here.

Creating theatre for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities

Frozen Light theatre company started from a very simple idea, writes co-artistic director Lucy Garland: we love going to the theatre so why shouldn’t people with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD) have the same opportunity? 

Both Amber Onat Gregory and I (co-artistic directors) had been creating small-scale sensory storytelling shows in special schools since 2007. Amber worked as a teaching assistant and I was a support worker at a day centre and community support team for adults with learning disabilities. We had got to a stage where we wanted to create larger scale productions in theatre venues. That’s how Frozen Light was born.

We started the company in 2012. Our first show was Tunnels, an underground adventure for teenagers with PMLD, which toured to 18 theatres across the UK, and was very well received. Building on the success of Tunnels we wanted to create a show that was bigger and better, so we created The Forest, with generous support from The Arts Council and several other Trusts and Foundations.

What makes Frozen Light different?

Conventional theatre may not always be appropriate for our audience. The stage is very far away and you have to sit still and be quiet. We’ve removed these traditional theatre conventions and have explored new ways of working that makes theatre appropriate for people with PMLD.

We do this in a number of ways. To begin with, our shows are only for six people with PMLD, their carer/companions and 12 additional friends and family members. This means that we create an intimate performance. Many of the sensory elements of our show take place on a one-to-one basis, ensuring that everyone is fully engulfed in the atmosphere. We also sing to each individual audience member, a song that includes their name. Making the production so personal really brings everyone together.

As a company we are passionate about stories, so we always put a story at the heart of our work. We look at the story we want to tell and think how we can communicate this on different levels, other than just the spoken language. This is where the multi-sensory comes in. We take each part of the story and add a sensory element. In The Forest, for example, we have a fire, so we take pieces of wood that smell like wood smoke around to each member of the audience.

In this production we wanted to push the multi-sensory even further, we did this by creating a set that is also sensory. The floor is reflective and the theatre space smells like a forest. We find that the multi-sensory elements allow us to communicate with our audience on many different levels and allow us to enter their world rather than forcing them to enter and conform to ours.

Creating a safe space

We work really hard to create a safe space. Many of our audiences have never been to the theatre before, and going to the theatre for the first time can be a scary experience. We create visual stories – which explain through pictures and words what will happen during the show and what the theatre looks like – and send them out to each audience member before attending. When the audience arrive, they are greeted by a member of Frozen Light and gently guided into the performance space, where we ensure they are settled and comfortable before the production begins.

We never expect anyone to sit still or be quiet in our shows and are more than happy for audience members to leave and re-enter the space as many times as they need to. We have had audience members come and sit on stage with us and or peek through a crack in the entrance door. We really don’t mind, we just want everyone to engage with the show in a way that is comfortable for them.

For more information, please visit the Frozen Light website.

“My hearing aid isn’t an MP3 player!” #EndTheAwkward

Jo Verrent is the Senior Producer of Unlimited, a project which funds and gives mentoring support to disabled artists to produce ambitious work.

As part of our End the Awkward campaign, Jo shares some examples of people’s innocent ignorance when it comes to disability.

Woman smiling and standing next to a sign with Japanese characters
Jo Verrent is Senior Producer at disability arts organisation Unlimited

I was working in a restaurant as a waitress and a customer put in a complaint as I had been ignoring him.

I just hadn’t heard him try and get my attention as he’d been whistling and shouting at me, but all whilst I had been facing the other way. He thought I was being rude deliberately.

It all ended up with him accusing me of making up being deaf as he said I spoke perfectly fine and, on being shown my hearing aid (which is a bone anchored one) – saying that it was an MP3 player!

He just couldn’t accept he was wrong and so preferred to make up ludicrous reasons why I wasn’t deaf instead!

Err thanks… But I don’t use a wheelchair

One time I went to a big theatre to assess a piece of work by a company of disabled artists and the theatre had been told that I was coming and that I, too, was disabled. So they took out my seat so that a wheelchair could fit.

Only I don’t use a wheelchair, I have a hearing impairment, and also one that impacts on concentration and fatigue – which means I really need to sit down. Only I couldn’t, because I had no seat anymore!

Close-up of woman and small child smiling
Jo with her granddaughter

Reversing the awkward…

I also have been woken up a couple of times now on the train with people nudging me and saying ‘I hope you don’t mind me waking you, but I’m curious to know what’s in your head?’ etc.

To my shame I did once tell someone it was a mechanism I had installed after a failed lobotomy to control my aggression… they left me alone after that! That probably did make them feel a bit awkward!

Read more awkward storiesDo you have an awkward story to share? Submit your awkward stories, and we’ll publish our favourites on our blog and social media. 

Find out more about how Scope is ending the awkward this summer.

The Curious Incident relaxes in Southampton

The National Theatre’s multi award-winning production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted from Mark Haddon’s best-selling book, is making its Southampton debut at the Mayflower Theatre on 23 June, with a relaxed performance on 2 July at 2pm.

The relaxed performance, which is presented in association with the National Autistic Society (NAS), is designed for those who may enjoy a less formal environment, in particular people with autism, sensory or communication disorders or learning disabilities.

Audience members will be free to move about during the performance, and there will be a relaxed attitude to noise and talking. The idea is to provide a more supportive environment for disabled people and their families, many of whom may otherwise feel a trip to the theatre would be out of the question.

There have been two previous relaxed performances for Curious Incident – one at the National’s Cottlesloe Theatre and one in the West End. Most recently there was a relaxed performance of the National’s award winning production of War Horse, also in association with the National Autistic Society.

Adapting the novel for stage

Playwright, Simon Stephens, who adapted Haddon’s novel for the stage, said: “The adaptation was a really joyful experience.The key to it was the relationship between Christopher and his teacher. Although it’s not that central in the novel, what struck me was that everybody in life has a favourite teacher.

“Even people who hated school, even people who found school a miserable experience, had one teacher who they loved more than others and thought got them in a way that other teachers didn’t. I knew that if I could get that relationship right, then we could create an evening in the theatre that people could recognize themselves in.”

Ros Hayes, Head of Access at the National Theatre, said: “We are keen to share our plays with a wider audience, and provide an opportunity for families to enjoy a visit to the theatre together. We want to create a welcoming, stress-free environment for people.”

The staff and cast of Curious Incident have all received autism awareness training, and NAS volunteers will be on hand to help audience members in need of support. A visual story, outlining what to expect, has also been developed to help prepare the audience for their visit.

Relaxed performance tickets are on sale now, price £15.00 each. Please call the Box Office on 02380 711811 for more info or to book. Age recommendation 11+