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> > > Graeae Theatre: Scene Change

Changing the Scene with Graeae

A seated man gazes at the camera.

Jamie Beddard: Writer and performer. Photo: Lou Birks.

Alex Bulmer tells DAO about Graeae's new education programme for disabled people who want to train in the performing arts.

Let me tell you a bit about the history of Scene Change. In 1999, Graeae Theatre Company launched its first full training and education project called Missing Piece. This project was geared to provide high quality training in the arts for disabled people who were just not being accepted into the mainstream colleges and training institutions. This exclusion wasn't on the basis of talent, but quite simply on the basis that schools weren't prepared to have disabled students. So in order to ensure that the company had actors with a performing ability of a high standard Missing Piece was launched. This ran successfully for a number of years and eventually became a part of London Metropolitan University's performing arts programme. Over the years, the success of those students was phenomenal - most of whom have now embarked on careers as performers - most of them as actors. The actual objective of the programme was to give those students a foundation so they could then access higher education in the mainstream. But we just found that no one could break down these barriers. So the students simply just went straight into the profession and they've done very well.

At the end of the academic year 2005/6, we were faced with the decision whether to embark on another full 9 months of training or whether to look at an alternative way forward. We decided it was time to start to focus on the colleges themselves - in a sense to start a programme that was almost like a bridge between what we had been offering and what the colleges could offer with our support. In other words, we wanted to start getting the colleges geared up so they could take on the training themselves and that in the future disabled people could get through the doors and access mainstream institutions.

This is also a reflection of recent changes in the law: the education act with regard to disabled students basically insists that all institutions have to provide adjustments so that disabled students can participate on an equal level.

In 2006/7, we are running a programme called Scene Change. This is a 1-year project which involves three separate areas. The first is outreach where we offer taster workshops to disabled people interested in training for a career in the performing arts. The second area focuses on administrative issues which include recruitment practice, assessment practice and curriculum. We are going into the schools and saying we need to look at what is happening administratively to identify the hidden barriers which are inherent in curriculum and assessment practices. And we need to look at how these barriers can be removed. Here we are offering seminars and workshops on inclusive practice. The third area we're focusing on is the training of the educators themselves. We're going in and offering workshops and getting teachers to be really honest about what their fears are about having disabled students in their classrooms. We help them to address these fears and then look at the reality of the situation and how performing arts training can be more inclusive. And then carrying that through to how one would assess the ability and talent of a student who may be completing an exercise in a slightly different way, adjustments having been made.

Current Outcomes

A woman in a wheelchair with head stretched upwards and arms stretched out behind her.

Kaz Langley: Actress, Dancer and Filmmaker. Photo: Lou Birks.

So far, the work with the teachers has been phenomenally successful. Practically everywhere we've gone, the resistance is rather high - there is a very high level of fear within the performing arts education system. And I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that a great deal of current practice is set in old patterns of exercises and ways of teaching. And therefore a lot of the fear is that if a disabled person is in the classroom or if an exercise is adjusted in any way then the teaching and the learning will be compromised. We are facing teachers who have concerns about the integrity of the education they are offering. But it's fantastic to spend a day with the tutors and look at how they teach and how they can protect that integrity. People have said things like “this completely opened my mind to a whole new exciting way of teaching”. Another said that he now fully understands what inclusive means and he is never going to turn back. We've had another teacher say that this is the way forward not only in theatre but in education in general. It has been really inspiring.

In terms of outreach, the participation uptake for the first weekend workshops that we offered to potential students in six regions across the country, last November, was not particularly high. But I think this is more an indication that most young disabled people do not see the performing arts as a viable career option. So we are dealing with a history of exclusion and we recognise that finding participants for the workshops isn't easy. So we are making a concerted effort, the second time round, to do a stronger marketing drive and we're hoping that the numbers go up.

The workshop structure has been set up so that participants attend a workshop in November, February and then two audition workshops in March. The idea is that the students who participate in these workshops will, by the end of it, feel prepared, calm and confident about attending a real audition for a drama school. The students who have come so far have absolutely loved it. And they are being taught by a team which consists of one Graeae practitioner and one practitioner from the Dance and Drama Academy (DaDa). The reason for this is that the funding for the project is to specifically work with the DaDa institutions. The students have the chance to spend the weekend with top educators. The schools involved are Mountview Academy, the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts and Arts Educational.

Everybody jumped on board when it came to inclusive teaching and the philosophy behind it. But the most difficult area is assessment. It's going to be really exciting to sit down with the teachers again and find ways in which the curriculum can be written more inclusively and how assessments can be made in a more inclusive way. The programme will end with a full evaluation in July of this year.

The future looks promising. In December we were awarded an amount of money and a brief from the Arts Council to carry on this work. The brief goes beyond our work with the DaDa schools, and this means we can work with a wider range of performing arts education institutions. We will start to see the results in the following year when people start to audition. I think the results will be very clearly positive because the schools have jumped aboard with such great enthusiasm.

For more information contact:

Alex Bulmer at Graeae on 020 7700 2455


Graeae Theatre Company

LVS Resource Centre

356 Holloway Road

London N7 6PA

Telephone: 020 7700 2455

Fax: 020 7609 7324

Minicom: 020 7700 8184