SQ6: Is theatre of actors who have a learning disability art or therapy? And if therapy, then for whom?

Let’s think about what motivates people to create a theatrical production. Why are they doing this at all? And what reasons might actors with learning disabilities have? Do they share the same motivations as non-disabled actors?


Discussion between Czech theatre critics


AvatarIf I have to think about it and discuss it, I need to know the background and where it originates. To what extent is the lead directive and to what extent is it therapeutic? How much do they incorporate this aspect?
Theatre critic 1
AvatarAnd would it be okay with you if it wasn’t beneficial for them in any way and they were just doing it?
AvatarI don’t know. Why would they do it if it wasn’t beneficial in any way?
Theatre critic 1
AvatarAnd if they got money for it?
AvatarCan a person with DS manage their finances?
Theatre critic 1
AvatarLet’s say they do get paid.
AvatarI don’t know.
Theatre critic 1
AvatarOr they receive a different type of payment.
Theatre critic 2
AvatarLike in the form of chocolate.
Theatre critic 1
AvatarA big one.
AvatarThat’s almost as if you asked a child to recite a poem and then gave them something in return. I don’t think that’s okay. So probably not.
Theatre critic 2

Audience discussion after the Who Am I? performance, CZ

AvatarI believe the therapeutic impact affects not only the actors but the audience too.
woman 1
AvatarI wouldn’t call it therapy but an educational impact. I don’t see the therapeutic subtext when I take into consideration the process and goals of regular therapy. What I see is an educative influence on schools and the public, on parents of the actors or the actors themselves. It helps them to learn what they can do, it opens up new topics for them and shows them what topics they can understand, what they can be interested in…
Mum of an actress with DS from the Aldente theatre: I have to say that it is very therapeutic for me since I’m in the position of a parent whose child begins to be labelled. 
woman 2
AvatarAnd do you think it could be therapeutic for the actors to come to terms with the labels during the rehearsals?
woman 3
AvatarThere is definitely a possibility of that, but I wouldn’t call it therapy since there is no professional overlooking the therapeutic aspects of the rehearsals. They can come to terms with some stuff, but they could also get affected by it, it can make them feel bad, something can make them feel uncomfortable and then there’s no one to help them out.
woman 2

Audience discussion after the Stand Up Down performance, CZ

AvatarFor instance, I go to the theatre to take a break from the hectic outside world. To charge up my batteries. I recharge them around people who have a learning disability.
woman 1
AvatarHow exactly do you recharge?
Avatar I think the reason is that they experience the world differently, they don’t care about things we get stuck on caring about all the time and for a moment it allows you to look at things in a different light. It shows me, I don’t have to think so hard all the time.
woman 2

Audience discussion after the Antigone performance, UK

AvatarCould it be therapy for spectators as well?
AvatarI think so as well, because it kind of gives them a kind of change of opinion. This changes their perspective of what people are able to do and helps to smash the stereotypes of what people can do.
Theatre student with autism, GB

Monologue section:

I feel like even if it’s not their primary motivation, there might be some form of therapy involved simply due to the community aspect within the process.theatre critic, CZ
It’s important that actors with a learning disability act for their own benefit, yet I think that cannot be the only reason, that there is a need for creating some sort of dialogue as well. Because theatre is a dialogue. It should always keep the audience in mind. If it was there only to function as therapy, it wouldn’t need to be performed in the theatrical setting, it would make no sense. There should always be a message to share. theatre critic, CZ
Sometimes when we label things – when I talk about Africans or homosexuals behaving in a certain way, we see them as a homogeneous mass. However, when you see several people with a disability on one stage, you can see how each of them is different and it brings some diversity into the label. Such diversity is deep-rooted in the public majority. When I was comparing Antigone and Ismene from the acting point of view, how the girls approached the roles, I could see how different they are, personality-wise. That was a powerful experience for me.woman, CZ
I think that theatre can be both. For actors with DS, it’s probably a form of therapy and self-realisation. I find the latter crucial. Not every art/drama-therapeutic performance can be designed for the audience as well – in fact, that’s where the drama therapy and performance art concepts differ, in their goals. I think it’s important that both the actors and the audience see the performance primarily as a work of art, and that it should be approached as that too – as well as an adequate expert-based background being needed. woman, CZ
I feel like they created a space that was safe and was warm and enclosed, which automatically creates that therapeutic space for everyone. Both for performers because they feel safe performing and for the audience because they feel safe watching. So I think you create that space and it can be therapeutic, but it’s still a beautiful piece of art.woman, ES
I think the therapy side of it… yes. There are some of the Blue Theatre actors who you see off stage, and when you see them on stage from the audience, they come alive and it’s as if they don’t have any disabilities at all. It’s amazing. It’s incredible to watch them. That’s one of the things I like about it. woman, UK
Yes, I think definitely having somewhere that you can kind of give your best performance and show what you’re great at doing can really help boost confidence and self-esteem and help people feel, like, able to achieve more than other people think that they can.theatre student with autism, UK
I think for people with a disability it’s a completely different experience when there are actors with a disability performing in the theatre as well, that they can be a part of workshops or discussions, which they couldn’t be a part of if they went to see a normal performance that may be too fast-paced for them and they might not be able to keep up with it and so on…man, CZ
When a person without a disability works there, you may be asking: How well do they do their work? In what way do they contribute? However, a person with a disability is not there for these reasons. They are here because it makes them feel good. Because people looking after them want them to feel good there. And that’s how I imagine theatrical activities: in what ways are they helpful for them? Does theatre have some positive influence on them (actors with a learning disability) as participants – that’s the topic I’m interested in. theatre critic, CZ
In terms of Blue Apple, it builds up the social skills, because when we go on a social outing, like to the shops, people can divide off into their friends. And whereas when you do a drama performance, you’re all forced to work together regardless of whether you normally get on. So from a social point of view, like working towards an end goal, like the performance, and then everyone has to work together, that’s a really good sort of social experience for all of us. And there are a lot more, I suppose, arguments and disagreements, but that’s a really good learning experience, how to get along with one another.volunteer from BlueApple, UK
And I think drama for anyone is a therapy. I think anyone who attends, be it if you’ve got a learning disability or not, anyone that attends a weekly drama session is outletting something.Blue Apple Theatre director, UK

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