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Necessary Theatre II: What makes an extraordinary experience?

By • West End
My last piece looked at five tests I use to think whether marketing a show is a challenge, a nightmare or (just occasionally) a doddle. And at the end I added a sixth – whether it's 'Necessary Theatre'. 

Last week I went to an extraordinary festival in Kensington and Chelsea called the InTRANSIT Festival of Arts, which takes to the streets, parks and public spaces of the Borough and offers free events of an extraordinary nature. Now I’d best declare an interest. I drove the car, which carried the speakers, which were used in the show my wife made. Other than that I was honestly unaware of what I would experience when I went to Tender Age, created by the Authentic Artist collective last week.

The introduction in the brochure asks “Are the elderly and the young our burden or our treasure? Can art and music connect people of different generations and abilities?” A core of six artists, three of them 16-25 year olds and three of them over 60, came together to explore these questions. And in response to an invitation from the Borough arts team they added into the mix a selection of the users of the local Scope centre, who all had severe learning difficulties and were variously semi-mobile or living within the confines of amazing wheelchairs designed to support their current physicality. On Friday afternoon there was a cast of 12 plus a range of carers supporting the process. I understand the Scope cast changed on a daily basis and so the show was unique for every performance.

A challenge to any director and professional cast, but the fact that this was a promenade performance in the Lighthouse Trust open public space meant they had to be prepared, as did we in the audience, for anything. What happened was magical, alchemic, emotional, and unforgettable. It was, for me, Necessary Theatre.

Kath Burlinson and her collective had worked for 7 days with any combination of up to 17 Scope users understanding how they could communicate, understand, connect through art and music, and find the shining centre of each of these unconventional fellow performers in Tender Age.  The level of dignity and calm offered by the collective, and the respect they had for their fellows, was beautiful. Alongside exploring how the core six related through dance and song, poetry and art, they drew each of the Scope cast members I saw on Friday into the performance, so that they were integral to the exploration complete with shuffled walk, carer, and wheelchairs in dance.

There was one moment which will stay with me forever – the sight of all twelve-plus carers dancing to “You are my kind” by Santana – each and every face alive to the music, untroubled, bright and smiling, connected to each other with their eyes – weaving as one company of humanity free for just one moment from all other cares. That’s what I saw through my tears. I hope that’s what they felt.

The Scope users and their carers will return to their homes and daycentres with extraordinary new experiences in their hearts. The six core artists will return to their artistry changed by the experience. The programme sums it up. "Continuously challenged, humbled, and transformed as we  explore the question 'How do we meet each other?'"

That to me is Necessary Theatre – the chance for just one moment to transform each of our individual lives so that we, as performer or audience, will never be quite the same again.  Thank you inTRANSIT for existing to make this kind of work financially possible – it is needed more and more.


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