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Guest Blog — Oily Cart’s Ellie Griffiths: ‘Shielding should not affect anyone’s right to creativity, their right to connection & their right to play.‘

Young people with complex disabilities feel huge anxiety about being excluded when theatres eventually reopen, as many may have to continue shielding until there is a Covid-19 vaccine.
Artistic director of disablity-led theatre company Oily Cart Ellie Griffiths writes about their creative inclusive sessions designed to be explored at home or school.

Looking Forward to a Better Theatre

Oily Cart works with some of the most creative, resilient and dynamic artists and audiences in the country, that society disables.

During the pandemic, we have watched many of these individuals have their equal rights quietly dismantled, and become more invisible. Rather than waiting for a vaccine, or venues to reopen, we made the decision to take our shows online, onto streets and into homes, as part of an uncancellable programme.

The first,Doorstep Jamboree’, features a travelling Balkan band who pop up across London to perform through windows and on the doorsteps of families who are still shielding.

This is as much a protest as a show we feel passionately that shielding should not affect anyone’s right to creativity, their right to connection and their right to play.

This is of course being carried out against the backdrop of an arts sector that is still reeling from “the biggest threat to the UK’s cultural infrastructure in a generation”. With mass redundancies, reduced funding and venue closures, for many creatives there is simply nonormal’ left to return to.

Freelance workers have been hit particularly hard, especiallythose who are not well established – often directly due tobarriers faced through ethnicity, gender or disability.

A recently published study of theatre’s freelance workers concluded that D/deaf and disabled arts workers have suffered disproportionately during the Covid-19 crisis – more than 40% said they were likely to leave the industry.

Now, as lockdown eases, many disabled artists are left feeling ‘expendable’ as new projects emerge without those who are still shielding.

The government’s decision to withdraw support from individuals who are shielding from the 1st of August has caused further anxiety and confusion in the disabled community, with many feeling they are being asked to pick between their lives and their livelihood.

If we do not all take action, this will be an immense step backwards in the hard-won progress made towards diversifying the arts sector over the last 20 years.

Ellie Griffiths artistic director of Oily Cart

This colossal shift, has however created an unprecedentedopportunity to change the old structures that were not working for everyone. It is now the responsibility of every gate-keeper of the arts to assist in rebuilding a new normal that enables everyone to access culture meaningfully as artists and audiences.

In the new (more inclusive) normal, we understand as an industry that no one size fits all. Each touring show will have both an online and physical format of equal quality. Collaborations and rehearsals can happen flexibly and remotely whenever needed without it being seen as a substitute for the real thing.

We won’t assume everyone has access technology and internet – so pioneering digital works will be followed by low-fi analogue projects that involve packages sent to homes and poems told over the phone as audience members are gently guided though new performance formats.

The work will attend to the wellbeing of creators and audience, respecting each adult, child, disabled and non-disabled individual, as a sensory being, (not just a pair of eyes and ears to be transmitted to). Companies will seek to find intimacy and connection with their audiences in new ways, keeping the essence and integrity of the piece, whilst not being bound to the irrelevant specifics of a theatre culture that no longer exists.

Performances will be more person-centred, acknowledging the audience as a group of diverse individuals who may engage with their material in a variety of different ways, that hold equal value.

And theatre will be better for it. It will be infinitely better.

Ellie Griffiths

Artistic Director