Over the years, we've worked with a variety of artists and theatres to spread the values of equality, diversity, and inclusion.
Equality, diversity and inclusion programs
Touretteshero's Backstage in Biscuit Land
From May-June 2016, the British Council supported the North American tour of Backstage in Biscuit Land, a unique glimpse into the life of an artist with Tourette Syndrome.
Combining storytelling, comedy and puppetry, Backstage in Biscuit Land offers an intimate glimpse into Jess Thom’s unique perspective as an artist and woman with Tourette Syndrome. As a result of her tics, Thom says 'biscuit' 16,000 times a day.
Thom loved the theatre as a child, but the intensity of her tics made it increasingly difficult to attend, a situation that culminated three years ago when she was asked to sit in isolation during a performance. Instead of never returning to the theatre, Thom found the only seat in the house she wouldn’t be asked to leave: the stage. Playful and laugh-out-loud funny, Backstage in Biscuit Land is a case in point that making theatre inclusive makes it better.
The British Council was pleased to support CripFest, conceived and curated by British artist Mat Fraser, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 25, 2015, at BAM Fisher in New York City.
Over the last 25 years since the ADA was passed, I’ve watched disabled artists mature, attain fantastic professional heights of accomplishment, and soar with their work creating brilliant, often game-changing art. Why then in mainstream arts productions, do we mostly only see portrayals of disability that don't reflect this reality? Still using the outmoded and damaging medical or charity models of disability that prevail on film and TV, still too often played by non-disabled actors, still infused with the heroic, non-threatening “inspiration porn” that flies in the face of our true reality, and still with the Oscars! 'Inspiration Porn' is the term coined by Disability media activist Stella Young (RIP), where she derided being found inspirational for “being able to remember her name and getting up in the morning”. Stella's talk on this is one of the several seminal video pieces included in the CripFest visual arts program.
However, in that time many incredible disabled artists & their creative partners have made work, careers, reputations and sometimes waves producing work that shows our reality and thus all of society, refusing to accept the stubbornly outmoded & negative media imaging of disabled people, but instead remould our understanding of Disability in our society, fashion it into the vibrant, exciting, and inclusive world that we strive to live in, as we continue to critique, laugh at, and highlight the Disability experience. From Hip Hop dance, theatre, striptease, cabaret, fine art and performance art, comes this assured movement of creative artists who are reshaping the notion of disability in our world. So, come along and celebrate it with us...at CRIPFEST!
-- Mat Fraser, CripFest curator
Beauty and the Beast and Access All Areas
What do you get when a born freak, a former beauty queen and an award-winning maverick director tell the true story of Beauty and the Beast?
Mat Fraser, well-known British disabled actor and writer, Julie Atlas Muz, American art star and a Miss Exotic World/Miss Coney Island, and Phelim McDermott, artistic director of Improbable, conspired to make an adult fairytale like no other: a magical sexual journey into real and fabled romance between beastly and beautiful characters.
The British Council partnered with Live Art Development Agency for Access All Areas NYC, a free, day-long event looking at some of the radical approaches to representations of disability being taken by contemporary performance artists, particularly in the UK.
'Access All Areas (NYC Edition)' featured durational performance-installations by UK artists Noemi Lakmaier and Martin O'Brien; live action by Aaron Williamson and Leroy Franklin Moore Jnr.; and provocative debate on the cultural impact of disabled artists by UK and US practitioners including Mat Fraser, Sunaura Taylor, Carrie Sandahl, Sandie Yi,and Amanda Cachia. There were also screenings of UK-based artists, films and performance documentation including work by Bobby Baker, Katherine Araniello, the Disabled-Avant Garde, Brian Lobel, and others; and a bibliotheque of essential books and DVDs drawn from LADA's Study Room.
The NYC Edition grew from Access All Areas, a critically-acclaimed public event and publication produced by the Live Art Development Agency in the UK in 2011 and 2012 as part of 'Restock, Rethink, Reflect Two' on Live Art and Disability. The program came to New York at the invitation of the British Council, to complement Abron's presentation of Improbable Theatre's 'Beauty and the Beast'.
Relaxed Performance Initiative
Relaxed Performance is a specially designated performance intended to attract and accommodate a range of people who might not otherwise be able to comply with traditional theatre etiquette. There is a relaxed attitude to noise, movement, and small changes to the sound levels and some lighting effects in the show. You might say, 'the opposite of the quiet carriage on the train'.
It includes people:
- On the Autism spectrum
- Those who make involuntary noises or movements
- Learning disabilities
- Mixed abilities or ages
- Those who prefer a less formal environment
- With age-related impairments
Theatres can either host a training for their staff or choose to serve as a regional hub to other theatres and invite fellow presenters to join the training. For any additional inquiries or to book a training, please contact us.
The Combat Veteran Players
The Combat Veteran Players (CVP) are an award-winning Shakespearean theater company comprised entirely of Former and Active Service Personnel, many of whom have been overcoming injury or transitional difficulty.
CVP Founder and Director, Jaclyn McLoughlin, created this rehabilitative theatre model in 2009 under the guidance of Dr. Walter Busuttil, Director of Medical Services for Combat Stress, the UK's leading organization for former Service members struggling with mental health difficulties. The CVP has become widely recognized as a model of the practice of Applied Theater, shown to be highly effective in mental and emotional rehabilitation and overall well-being.
In the UK, the CVP has performed in a number of theatrical spaces to critical acclaim - ranging from Shakespeare's Globe Theatre to the Royal Shakespeare Company's Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon. This past year, members of the CVP performed an extract of Richard III for an audience including H.R.H. Prince Charles on Shakespeare's birthday.
In 2015, the CVP received an Owle Schreame Award for Innovation in Classical Theatre and was nominated by the National Lead of National Veterans Mental Health Network in the NHS for an Award for Excellence with the Royal Society for Public Health. This year, the company was a finalist for the Soldiering On Award for Innovation.
Combat Veteran Players in the United States
Following six successful and award-winning years in London, the CVP created a US branch and debuted with a performance of 'The Comedy of Errors' on July 9, 2016 at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Forum Theatre in Washington, DC. The cast of twelve active-duty and retired servicemen and women represented branches of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force. The performance was supported by the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore on the Walter Reed Military Medical Center Campus, as well as the Fort Belvoir Army installation, Intersections International, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
On December 14, 2016, the cast reunited and was joined by four members from the original UK-based CVP group for a reprisal of the production, shared on the stage in a one-time, international reaching performance, followed by a discussion with the audience and a holiday reception at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Lansburgh Theatre in Washington, DC.
We partnered with the Fledgling Fund and Women Make Movies to present a series of public screenings of the award-winning documentary 'Dreamcatcher', a film that explores the hidden world of prostitution through the eyes of one of its survivors, Brenda Myers-Powell. A former teenage prostitute who worked the streets of Chicago, Brenda defied the odds to become a powerful advocate for change in her community. With warmth and humor, Brenda gives hope to those who have none. Her story is their inspiration. The screening tour visited several US cities from September to November 2015. Post-screening discussions featured Brenda Myers-Powell and producer Lisa Stevens, plus local city advocates.
In 2013, the British Council supported the touring production of 'Roadkill' in the United States, and organized a public policy program to discuss the issue of sex-trafficking.
Cora Bissett’s critically-acclaimed play, 'Roadkill', was the first production in Edinburgh Fringe Festival history to win every major theatre award in 2010. Roadkill is based on a real-life encounter with a young woman who has been trafficked from Nigeria to the US and forced into prostitution. Staged in a seemingly normal apartment, the site-specific nature of the work places the audience in the young woman’s world, as they witness in close quarters how her hopes of a new life are turned into violent scenes of brutality and captivity.
The US premiere of this work toured in Chicago and New York City, showing at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre from May 11 to 28, 2013; and at St Ann's Warehouse in New York City from June 4 to 30, 2013. We organized a showing of 'Roadkill' for professionals from the legal and law enforcement fields, including the NYPD and FBI, and the corrections sector in New York City. By seeing the harsh realities dramatized in this performance, this select group was able to intellectually and emotionally connect with the social injustice it exposed, and share their experience of this piece with their peers.
'Roadkill' Public Policy Program on sex trafficking
The British Council organized a public program to complement the US tour of 'Roadkill', to increase public awareness of the issue of sex-trafficking. Through a series of public discussions with leading experts, we reached new audiences, enabled important policy dialogue, and created a project legacy through digital and print publications to enrich the experience of seeing the play. The program was delivered by British Council in partnership with the presenting theatres, universities, advocacy groups, government and law enforcement.
Just Like a Woman Exhibition
In 2015, the British Council supported 'Just Like a Woman', a two-day program of shows, debates, lectures, installations and screenings looking at the at the performance of identity – the ways femininity can be 'performed' and representations of gender can be queered through performance. The program took place at Abrons Art Center, with support from London's Live Art Development Agency (LADA) and Chelsea Theatre.
With women performing women, women performing men, men performing women, and artists who go beyond the limits of gender altogether, Just Like A Woman featured an array of US and UK artists including Lois Weaver, Peggy Shaw, CHRISTEENE, Narcissister, Kris Grey, Dickie Beau, Lucy Hutson, George Chakravarthi, Harold Offeh, Lucy McCormick, The Girls and The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein.
Just Like A Woman was part of the Live Art Development Agency’s Restock, Rethink, Reflect initiative on Live Art and Feminism, and followed their hugely successful Access All Areas event on Live Art and Disability at Abrons in 2014.