A new year-long performing arts scheme for youngsters across the East Midlands has launched in Northampton to give people with disabilities more opportunity in theatre.
The project known as Splash! was formed to address a lack of job opportunities for disabled artists in the arts and to provide more immersive theatre experiences for disabled viewers and their families.
The scheme was yesterday (September 10) launched by a consortium of organisations, including the Northampton Royal & Derngate, to provide live and online arts shows and production opportunities for over 2,500 young people with learning disabilities across Northamptonshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire.
Nikki Charlesworth is a theatre designer and puppet maker from Nottingham who suffers from cerebral palsy. She said: "I think it's still a big deal to see someone with a visual disability on stage.
"So many classic stories performed are still casting non disabled actors in roles. I think there is an under representation and I think that's because people's attitudes need changing.
"It needs unearthing from the bottom because there's so much to do with the process that's quite inaccessible. A lot of protocol needs changing and challenging and I want to be part of that change."
There are three stages to the project, starting with a week long creative residential, taking place this week, where disabled artists will design an artistic brief for the project, with disabled access at the heart of it.
From October 2018 to February a programme of audience development and engagement activities will take place across the East Midlands, working with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) schools, councils and families.
Trudy Bell creative learning director at The Royal & Derngate said: "The Royal & Derngate have been involved right from the start and it came from multiple organisations and venues in the region who said actually there's not enough opportunity both for disabled and non-disabled audiences to engage in the creative process of art with by, and for, disabled people."
The final phase of the project next spring and summer will be to plan and produce an outdoor touring production, led by project partners Diverse City, who champion diversity and equality in the arts and Extraordinary Bodies, a professional integrated circus company.
Trudy added: "What’s different about this project is that local people are invested in the end piece.
"So they will help those artists to develop it, come up with the ideas, respond to the themes and see what happens with it when it comes here in June - we will be the opening of the tour.”
Taking the waterways of the region as the central inspiration, this production will be performed first in Northampton, before transferring on to other locations around the East Midlands.
"It was decided that because the different venues are linked by waterways that it was important to make this an outdoor event to literally be a Splash in terms of families, communities and young people to experience arts in a non-arts venue,” Trudy added.
"It’s about opening up the possibilities of what’s on their doorstep as a creative space."
The Splash! consortium is made up of nine bodies including: Attenborough Arts Centre and Curve, Canals and River Trust, Lincoln Drill Hall, Graeae Theatre Co, Deda and Hubbub Theatre, NEO Learning, Nottingham Playhouse, Royal & Derngate Theatres, The Mighty Creatives and University of Derby.