“Our special daughter loves appearing alongside professional actors. It has given her so much confidence, purpose and direction in her life."
“My daughter Bethany is seventeen, has Down's Syndrome and loves acting. She has gained so much from this wonderful theatre company. Beth and Elise recognise the potential in each individual and then work with it in such an insightful way. There are no barriers between the mainstream and the disabled actors. It is totally awe inspiring to watch the productions flow so effortlessly. The young people with disabilities are treated with the utmost respect, it really is the best example of integration that I have ever seen. To say Beth and Elise love their work is an understatement. Their enthusiasm is contagious and the energy generated by their work is electric. Bethany is at her happiest during her times with Taking Flight. It would be Bethany's dream to be an actress and I know Taking Flight will continue to nurture her and help her fulfil her ambition. Everyone who watches one of the amazing all inclusive productions comes away with a little more understanding of what our disabled young people are capable of. Every performance is so moving and uplifting. I cannot thank Taking Flight Theatre Company enough for the difference they are making to so many lives.”
Taking Flight believe that everyone should have access to the arts- as both audience and participant but also as creator. Every summer we tour an inclusive accessible production of a Shakespeare play around outdoor venues in Wales. Not only is our work out of doors, but also promenade which means the action moves around within a given performance site. Whilst exciting, this presents new challenges to our professional casts of disabled, D/deaf, visually impaired and non- disabled actors. Everything we do is supported with British Sign Language/ Sign Supported English and now Audio Description also- and all our access tools are embedded and integrated into the performance. Alongside all of our projects we aim to run outreach programmes, working with disabled and disadvantaged often young- but sometimes older- people local to particular venues. This year we will be working with community casts in Cardiff and Pembrokeshire- a rural place in West Wales. Inter- generational groups will work with a choreographer to create the opening scene of the show which audiences will see in Thompson’s Park in Cardiff, Stackpole in Pembroke and Hilton Court and Gardens near Haverfordwest.
Imagine a jazz club, it’s the 1930s- a vibrant and decadent hub. There’s live original music, there’s an enchanting songstress ….and there’s dance. Audiences will be encouraged by our young and older participants to tap along to the dance they will have been learning over the previous weeks with Gemma, our choreographer and Jenna, our young disabled outreach assistant. The groups will perform alongside our professional core cast, giving them a unique opportunity to gain this experience. In previous years, young people and their teachers/ assistants and service leaders have told us how performing in our show gave their confidence a much needed boost- how they learnt new skills, made new friends and importantly, gained positive disabled role models.
For young disabled people who may be interested in pursuing a career in the arts, working alongside a disabled professional performer can be life changing. One young woman described what it was like to finally see someone on stage that she felt reflected her own life experience. “I realised it could be me up there” she said.
Testimony of one young participant directly quoted without correction: “Since being activilly involved with taking flight it has changed my life in such a positive light I wouldnt have even been able to have guessed months back if you asked me. Taking flight has openly taken me under their wings with love and care and actually wants to help you develope and achieve, I have never felt more comftable with the people or their enviroment as a disabled individual, they treat me equaly and value me and my skills I can offer while offering me new skills while building my confidence at the same time by encouraging and supporting me in any aspect needed . I feel like Taking Flight never once hesitated to ask me to do something just because of my disability and has always seeked out the posatives in me other companys ignored. In my short time spent with taking flight they have offered me everything they can and I have learnt so many different things I appreciate and value their company and hope to spend many more volunteering days with them”
Teacher’s testimony “Self confidence; I think that some of them don’t get the chance to excel but I think some of them today especially (name) have really had a chance to come into their own. I think the acting is a big deal for them even in front of this group it’s a lot to ask them to stand up and do something like that normally but today there was no problems with many of them just getting up and doing things with confidence that you don’t normally see in them, so that’s good to see”
Your backing will pay for this outreach work alongside The Winter's Tale in May and June 2015. We need £6000 to run this project. This will pay for the fees of the facilitator- Gemma- who will be leading the dance sessions and her assistant Jenna (who you met in the film). It will also pay their travel expenses and the travel of any participants who need assistance with this. We will also need to pay for a fully qualified BSL interpreter for workshops with D/deaf young people. Additional support workers will be employed for some groups. £1000 will pay for a set of beautiful costumes which will be reused by each community cast. It is important to us that our outreach casts are dressed to the same high standard as that of our professional core so that they feel as valued and as important- which they are! Some of the money will pay for the hire of space in which to conduct rehearsal sessions- although this is minimal as most of these sessions will take place within schools/ services. Finally it will pay for sessions with our musical director Dan so that young participants- including a BSL choir- can learn one of the songs that has been specially written. We will also use some of the money to heavily subsidise the tickets of the parents and siblings of these young people who would like to come and support but often struggle to pay for tickets. A massive part of why we run this outreach programme is so that the participants have something to be proud of- yes, so they can show off to their parents and friends. Without this money, the outreach will not be able to run- and the young people who are anticipating being a part of this project will have to wait another year. If we raise MORE than our target, all the extra money we raise will go into our outreach work during 2015. This is our promise to our backers- for example we would like to invite young disabled people who have an interest in a career in the arts into our rehearsal room on all our projects. Disabled youngsters find arts training much harder to access and we would like to fund places to mentor young people and provide on the job training opportunities. The money would cover paying their expenses and a small fee to be paid to them (subsistence) as well as accommodation of they were coming from outside of Cardiff. Extra money will also go into our fundraising efforts to fund a theatre summer school specifically for D/deaf young people that we would like to run this summer holidays. It could also fund our workshops with profoundly disabled young people and their siblings (who are often Young Carers) on the You and Me project.
It is important to let you know that whenever we employ and engage people- actors, volunteers, administrators, workshop facilitators, musicians.. we actively seek to work with disabled, D/deaf or sensory impaired people- increasing employment opportunities and creating role models for both disabled and non- disabled people. The Winter’s Tale tour itself is funded by The Arts Council of Wales and The Millennium Stadium Charitable Trust. Participants signed up so far for 2015: Woodlands Specialist School Ely, St Cyres Deaf and HI Unit Cardiff, Age Connect Ely, Portfield Specialist School Haverfordwest, Greenhill School Tenby (young people who are experiencing difficulties in mainstream education).
Risks and challenges
Having run similar outreach programmes in the past, we know that one of the main risks is having too many young participants wanting to be involved in the project for our capacity. This year, in order to combat this we are planning to offer workshops more widely so that part of the work can be accessed by a greater number ofpeople. There will be a maximum of 20 community performers per show but this doesn’t mean more people can’t participate in the dance workshops.
Another area that sometimes causes issues is the exclusion of young people whose families/ carers are unable to commit to bringing them to the performances. In order to bypass the necessity for this kind of support- although it will still be most welcome!- we are working directly with schools, charities and services who will be responsible for bringing the young people to events. So that parents in low income brackets are not excluded from seeing their offspring shine, we will be offering extremely low price tickets to parents/ guardians.
Obviously, we are managing logistical and technical risks through our stage manager risk assessing all events, only utilising safe and accessible venues, ensuring all young and older participants have in place the communication tools they need (BSL interpreter, audio describer, one to one support etc), only employing staff with DBS checks and providing Child Protection training before the project commences to the whole team.
In line with The Winter’s Tale, which is in the main part funded by The Arts Council of Wales, we are also running an ACW funded audience development programme. This project aims to engage with and increase numbers of D/deaf, Hard of Hearing, blind and visually impaired audiences in Wales, not only for The Winter’s Tale but also for the rest of Taking Flight’s work and beyond. We as an organisation want to contribute to a Wales that sees equal opportunities for access to and participation in the arts and society- as audience and also as creators of art. We will be working in the rehearsal room on new techniques of captioning and surtitling outdoor performances and other tools that might be used by D/deaf audiences who don’t access the BSL interpreter.
One of the risks this poses is that people won’t be aware of the access tools we offer and so won’t come to experience our work- we are working closely with various charities, organisations and individuals who are assisting us in consulting with these potential audiences directly, helping us to identify the barriers that we can try to remove.
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