Tim Webb MBE: “We recently submitted our NPO application the period 2018-22… If we don’t get the level of support that we are getting now – it may be curtains.”
Theatre company Oily Cart are busier than ever before creating exceptional work for everyone.
For 35 years, they have created more than 80 original shows, which have toured the UK as well as internationally. They are currently working on projects in the Russia, Japan and the USA.
“People with intellectual or physical disabilities are individuals who rarely have a voice,” says Tim Webb, who co-founded Oily Cart with designer Claire de Loon and musician and composer Max Reinhardt. “Their profile is very low and there are problems in giving them a voice of their own.”
Oily Cart have always placed the needs of their audience at the centre of their work. “Because of who our audiences are, we have to be very practical, and that means breaking the process of theatre making down to explore the elements and then reassembling them in a way that will really aid that audience.”
Webb explains the creative vision: “We ration time between audiences. Our work divides into two halves: young people and family shows like ‘In A Pickle’ – which was originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company is a fully immersive theatre experience for children aged 3-5, their families and friends that involves creatives and audiences with disabilities.” That show has just finished a successful UK Tour and in April and May it will be heading out to the USA – taking in Brooklyn Academy of Music and Lincoln Center, New York. This is the first time these two organisations have collaborated on a programme for young people and their families.
Theatre productions can be tricky for those with special needs. A growing number of companies are adapting their work to meet the needs of their diverse audiences. And about time too. “Wonderfully, I think relaxed performances have come to be accepted quite quickly, it’s important to make any show as accessible as you can. Many of the young people we work with have multiple and profound learning disabilities. For example, one of the key features of Oily Cart are that we work close up, often 1-2-1 – with deaf and blind individuals adapting to the complex needs of the individual. We aim to find new ways of telling stories by asking ourselves early on – what will interest our audience?” Webb says.
It was, says Webb, essential that Relaxed Performances become commonplace. “We’re talking about a cultural shift, to make West End shows accessible for all is a very valuable and important thing to do.” All this has allowed a fresh audience to the theatre, but it has also empowered new families to attend and participate. “You have to use images that will be picked up and you make the most of what you have. We employ uncluttered methods of storytelling that focus on the sensory; smell, touch and having things to handle. We are unique in the way we create a kinaesthetic performance space.”
Together with the national charity Sense, Oily Cart will enter unchartered territories with their first ever touring production for children and young people who are deafblind. The sights, sounds and smells of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem – Kubla Khan – are to be re-imagined into a brand new and unique immersive production in August 2017.
There are many writers, actors, and directors who would not be doing what they do now without Oily Cart. They have National Portfolio status with annual funding to the tune of approximately £286,000. Like many others, they face standstill funding or worse, a cut in real-terms. Tim is frank about the implications of a funding reduction. “Arts Council England have encouraged us to diversify funding streams. Actually, we have a diverse basket of funding; ticket sales, support of a few major trusts and foundations and we are supported by individuals too.” Webb says.
“We recently submitted our NPO application the period 2018-22… If we don’t get the level of support that we are getting now – it may be curtains.”