September 2017 saw a short preview tour of an exciting new theatre piece by PAD (Positive About Deafness) Productions – ‘Left Of Me’, performed by two actors, Chloe Clarke and Emily Howlett (who is a regular writer for this site).
The 60min piece was entirely devised by the company, with a focus on the different ways traumatic experiences affect us as individuals and as society as a whole, and how we can start to understand the experiences of others.
‘Left Of Me’ is also breaking new ground in terms of integrated access – with creative, interactive captioning and live audio description as part of the action onstage. It also asks questions about how audience members with sensory impairments can follow the stories of both the actors; especially as one is Deaf and the other is visually impaired.
Chloe Clarke, who is visually impaired, said of the process;
“I fell in love with this project during its initial R&D stages, when we still thought that Queen and drumming would be major focal points of the show. 12 months, one jelly brain and a skellington later, Freddie Mercury and the drum kit were gone, although we did manage to keep hold of one member of Queen in the form of a trailing plant: Professor Brian May (Cox).
Working with Emily and Pad Productions has been a wonderful experience. I am not saying this under duress. There is definitely NOT an Emily standing behind me with a corkscrew at my back…
Honestly though, it’s been empowering (urgh, yes, I said it) for a Deafie and a blindy to devise and perform a two-hander that, having integrated as much access as possible, does not focus on our impairments, but doesn’t hide them either. Moreover, you’d think that our impairments might make it hard to work together, but it helps that Emily and I are old friends and old hats at working inclusively. We may forget at times what the other needs in terms of access, but we can also scream and swear at each other if we do.
What was interesting during the LOM process was working with Stu, our ‘mainstream’, non-disabled Director, who was open to learning about our inclusive process and did his best to remember that ‘E relies on eyes’ and ‘C relies on ears’. And that intense lighting hurts both of us. It’s a learning curve for everyone, but when the team (which also included two ‘mainstream’ technicians, Simon Jackson-Lyall and Gareth Stevens) are open to adapting, it makes all the difference.
What’s even more interesting is that we managed to complete an entire rehearsal process AND a run of 4 shows without Emily wanging anything at my head (having spent a proportion of the R&D concussed following assaults with a drumstick and later a golf ball). That said, we haven’t actually done the full tour yet, so wish me luck…”
Will Lewis, who was an audience member for the first preview performance at Derby Theatre, said;
“Trauma can be an emotional rollercoaster and ‘Left Of Me’ was just that. What begins as light hearted quirky fun ends up full of twists and drama; shining an honest and sometimes brutal mirror on how individuals and society as a whole react to trauma.
Creators of the piece and “Esteemed Doctors” Emily Howlett and Chloe Clarke make a great comedy double act giving a medical science lecture. It is therefore a shock when the clown of the pair eventually unravels and reveals a dark secret behind her mask.
The show is fabulous, fully accessible and captioning was easy to follow. It is lovely to see a show with integrated access that doesn’t tone down or make things easy for the audience.
What made the show more endearing and witty was the mischievous duo involving random audience members for a therapy session, some cheeky flirtation and having silly props such as jelly for brains and string for nerves, to demonstrate the effects of trauma. We all have different experiences in life, and they’re all valid, and this show is a little (powerful) reminder of that.
Part Of Me is a brave, original, intelligent, and personal look at mental health that resonates. And the audience left knowing more ‘ologys’ than they ever knew existed!
If you didn’t see the preview tour, be sure to catch the national tour next year!”
PAD Productions will be touring ‘Left Of Me’ in 2018/19 . Find out more at: www.padproductions.co.uk
Chloë Clarke is Co-Founder of Elbow Room Theatre Company and Unlimited commission winner 20016/17 (The Importance of Being Described…Earnestly?). She tweets @ceejclarke
Will Lewis is a deaf actor, dancer and general culture vulture. He tweets as @WillLewisActor
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