WE ARE NOT IN THE MIDDLE OF IT ALL, NOT CENTRESTAGE BUT PLACED IN THE WINGS, PEEKING OUT AND OBSERVING THE ACTION.
After I’ve met Daryl, after I’ve seen his performance A Square World (enlightening and moving), after I’ve spent three days with him during the festival The Cat’s Gaze (both involved in managing theater workshops with an inclusive focus) … the cover of this 5th issue of DiverCity can only be dedicated to him. But let’s go with order and let’s give Daryl the opportunity to introduce himself to you, readers.
Dear Daryl. Let’s start where everything begins. When / where were you born? In which family context did you grow up? What kind of education did you receive?
I was born in Nottingham (Robin Hood country) in 1975. I am the youngest of 3 children. We were a working class family living on a council estate close to the city centre, so I have always lived in an urban setting.
My parents worked in factories, quiet manual jobs, so from the outside it looked like a typical family set up, 2 parents and 3 kids, but there was one difference that set us apart from all the families living on the estate. I was born disabled.
Back in the 1970’s this had quite an impact on my family. My mother was my main carer and therefore couldn’t work as she had to care for me. My dad worked several jobs to make sure there was enough money on the table and my older sister had to also take on more independence from a young age as I was in and out of hospital for most of my young life.
I have a mobility impairment, which means I can only walk short distances and mainly use a wheelchair.
I was the only disabled kid on my housing estate. Growing up we didn’t know the correct words to talk about my disability, we weren’t aware of disability politics and therefore I grew up in a very mainstream way. We didn’t really talk about it. I was allowed to do anything my friends did, I wasn’t protected or wrapped up in cotton wool. So in many ways I grew up in a very traditional way.
I remember when I was 6 or 7 I was moved from my local school and put into a ‘Special’ school (against the wishes of my parents) because I was seen as “too Disabled for my local school” and this was the first time I ever met another disabled person. But after a year I was kicked out of that school as I “wasn’t Disabled enough”, so for most of my early life I had always lived on this invisible line between being seen as Disabled and non-disabled.
I eventually ended back in my local mainstream school alongside my friends and my older sisters.
I would say during those years I wouldn’t have identified as Disabled. For one I didn’t have the vocabulary around the subject that I felt comfortable to use (it was all quite negative) but also Disability was something to be hidden, not talked about or to be ashamed of. So it was something we didn’t really talk about within the family: I was just different, we weren’t ashamed of it, it was just a fact and as a family we just did things a bit different from others. There certainly were no Disabled role models around me or on TV so there were no reference points.
What studies have you done?
At my local schools I was allowed to do more ‘arts’ based subjects than most other students. For example when my class did sports I would be sent to the art room to do some painting, or when they went on school trips (which weren’t accessible) I would go and join the drama classes. There was an assumption that I wouldn’t be able to get a ‘proper’ job so I may as well do the ‘soft’ subjects like the arts. I always say that if I wasn’t disabled then I wouldn’t have ended up working in the arts as I wouldn’t have been allowed to do so much at school.
When I was 14 I auditioned for, and was accepted into, Central Television Drama Workshop in Nottingham, which was training ground for young actors and provided professional performance opportunities in TV, film and Theatre. So alongside my school life I would attend this twice a week. Again I was the only Disabled person there, but I learnt so much about performance it was invaluable and also got to have small parts in TV shows. After finishing school and college studying Art, 3D studies and Drama, I left Nottingham and went on to university. I completed a HND in Community Drama Leadership and then a BA Honours in Performing Arts. The universities and courses were not the most well known or respected in the industry but moving away from Nottingham and becoming truly independent allowed me to discover Disability Politics. Finally I was able to understand my place as a disabled person within my world. I discovered a vocabulary that allowed me to talk about my experiences, that I owned. I found a community I belonged to, an identity around Disability that was nothing to be ashamed of.
What were your first job experiences?
Apart from my early jobs at Central TV Drama Workshop I would say my true job experience was working for Graeae Theatre Company in 1997 after I left university. Ewan Marshal, then Artistic Director of Graeae, came to our final university show.Afterwards Ewan invited me to see their latest production of Fleshfly: I had only really begun to self identify as Disabled and it was a complete shock to the system! I had never seen theatre like that! Then Ewan cast me in in ‘What The Butler Saw’ by Joe Orton. ‘What the Butler Saw’ opened my eyes to new ways of using disability as a playful and creative theatrical tool, which continues to influence my work as a director and performer today. The show was unapologetic, anarchic, farcical, rude, sexual and in your face! Graeae gave me the confidence as a Disabled performer and introduced me to the world of UK small scale touring. It was 12 solid weeks on the road and opened my eyes to the absolute diversity of the UK and its people.We would perform in small theatres in random locations all over the place, meeting a wide breadth of audiences, some who knew the work of Graeae and some who were expecting to watch “a nice play about the handicapped’. One night we performed to an audience of 200 and then 400 the next. It taught me to never get comfortable or complacent. This is still how I approach working with the actors I direct today, theatre needs to be a dialogue with your audience, you can play with them, but must respect your audiences.
‘What the Butler Saw’ was a great platform for me as a performer, the show led onto many other acting jobs for many other companies.
How did your life and the theater’s world come together?
I’m sure everyone reading this has felt left out at some point in their lives, it’s a feeling we all know and a feeling that is never comfortable. Sometimes it’s because of a mistake we’ve made, words we’ve said or because of who we are. Being left out because of who we are, because of the colour of our skin, because for of our beliefs or because we are different from the perceived norm allows us to look at the world around us from a different point of view. We’re not in the middle of it all, not centre stage but placed in the wings, peeking out and observing the action. I mainly lived my life on the edge of the mainstream. This is a unique position, for all its negativity can be one of luxury, not of pity. It allows us to sit back to examine and observe the world, question what we are seeing and spot the injustice happening all around. This unique view of life enriches my thinking, my creativity and my approach to making theatre. For me the accepted rules don’t always apply, which means I have the luxury of improvising and making up my theatre rules. Myself and other Disabled artists have had to think outside the box just to ensure we can communicate with each other and our audiences. For most of the time we’ve done this in the shadows and on our own. To begin with it was so we could make theatre as good as the mainstream, but now we’ve evolved beyond that, we are making theatre that is becoming the mainstream, theatre that is beyond the mainstream.
How are we doing this? By making theatre that is made by and for everyone. As an artist I can only draw on my experiences, and therefore the theatre I make takes on a point of view form of being ‘on the edge’ of society. It’s theatre that doesn’t always confine itself to traditional rules, but I understand those rules exist, so I may as well have fun and play with them. Hopefully what comes out of this approach are new forms and techniques which are evolving all the time, not because I set out to do something different but because I had in order to tell stories I wanted to tell to lots of different people. Let’s see Disabled theatre makers in the rehearsal rooms, on our stages and out of the shadows. It’s time to pull back the curtains, open up the mainstream and make a new centre stage that everyone can access. I believe that without these new dialogues and artist exchanges theatre will never really be for everyone, instead it will be for the lucky ones and perpetuate the feeling of being left out by yet another generation.
The idea behind our magazine is that diversity, all diversities, represent us and give us the opportunity to be ourselves. None of us is the bearer of a single diversity but of multiple differences that characterize us. So, how and how much your diversities have played a key role in your life and, in particular, in your work/job?
My work can only reflect and tell the stories of the life I experience. As a Disabled person, a gay man and from a working class background in Nottingham, through my work supporting and working with young refugees, this all impacts on my belief that the arts can enrich our lives and those of the communities we inhabit. I am an active advocate for improving the rights of disabled and marginalised people by promoting access and inclusion within the arts. Working in this way has required me to try a variety of ambitious, imaginative and unorthodox approaches to create relevant and playful theatre that removes barriers and ensures the engagement for all and across all art forms. My good friend and artistic colleague Nicola Miles-Wildin sums this up much better than I ever have. She was once asked why she makes accessible and inclusive theatre. Her reply was “ I want to make work that my friends can connect with, access and tell the stories we can relate too”. In my world, both professional and personal, I am surrounded by a rich and diverse group of people. Therefore when I create work, why would I make work that excludes any of them? So the only way to include them all is to understand that we all engage with storytelling in different ways (and ultimately theatre is about telling stories) that people can understand. Inclusion is not rocket science, it’s just allowing us to open our eyes to new ways of communicating.
Would you pleased to tell us, in a few sentences, the plot of your performance A Square World? What about the project A Different Way? How can people, associations and companies collaborate with the project?
A Square World is a story of 3 squared shaped friends who live in a perfect square shaped world until one of them becomes a circle. The friends realise the Circle can no longer take part and together decide they need to redefine the rules of the square world where they live.
A Different Way (#ADiffWay) is a ‘show and tell’ project connecting Theatre for Young Audiences with Disabled audiences and artists. It’s about putting the voices of young people at the heart of the creative process and supporting the growth of inclusive theatre for young people.
It’s been a long time in the making and has already many different and great partners, but we will be using the hashtag #ADiffWayToThink to share relevant reports, news items and good practice in the last week of every month between now and April 2020.
We want this to be an ongoing discussion both ways, so you can also interact with the hashtag by sharing stuff yourself, asking questions or sharing your own experiences…. It doesn’t have to be all one way!
Our aim is to create a shared understanding before our symposium on 29th April 2020. We want artists and companies to get involved and to join us as allies, to share responsibility, collaborate and create solutions.
And, the most important question… when will you return to Italy?
For the past few years I have been lucky enough to work with some great companies in Italy such as La Baracca (Bologna) and Teatro Prova (Bergamo). At the moment most of my work is taking me further afield to places like Japan, but although I have not set a date to return to Italy I hope it won’t be too long before I’m back for more exciting Italian collaborations. I can see there is a desire and commitment to continue developing inclusive theatre from the Italian artists I have met and worked with… so I’m sure I’ll be back soon.