Lockdown theatre: Crips without Constraints

Crips without Constraints Credit: Graeae Theatre

With the news that theatres are making slow steps towards re-opening, this week I am looking back to another digital performance based project that has been running during lockdown.

Throughout lockdown Graeae theatre company have been releasing a weekly trio of digital content: A play, a podcast and a picture. The plays are YouTube videos, some in British Sign Language, and each with subtitles and audio captions. They contain reflections on living with disabilities during the pandemic. They are also imaginative, funny and fantastical, many reflecting on the importance and difficulty of human connection in these times. The podcasts appear for one week only, and the pictures are features with captions on the website.
The pictures are creative collaborations between Graeae company members and illustrators, setting out to capture something of the each performer and their experience of art and disability. Anna Higgie’s collaboration with David Ellington shows Ellington falling or flying in a pink shirt against a light  bile background. Ellington is surrounded by hands signing in BSL, and his words are distributed on the page in vibrant colours. The image emphasises the elegance and expressive capacity of BSL, and captures Ellington’s vibrant creativity.
The Play, Podcast, Picture format is one of the easiest ways of engaging with ‘lockdown theatre’ that I have encountered. Each is short, and in a form that is reminiscent of online content consumption that we are used to. Podcasts have been around forever (a decade or so) and we are all used to experiencing content as a scroll (stroll) through images and videos.
What makes this collection in some way a performance, is its careful curation of the three elements. Although they are disparate, the pictures are almost scenographies for the online plays, lending a unique visual identity to each week’s shell. The plays themselves demonstrate the breadth of Graeae’s talent and vision, and work creatively with the constraints of at-home theatre making. Raji Gopalakrishnan’s play Butterflies for example, uses a simple but powerful costume change to move the narrative from the difficulties of self-isolation to a fantastic tale about a princess and her butterflies. Whilst the podcasts contribute to the liveness of each section, expiring batter a few days of being posted.
Last month I reflected on Tourretteshero’s Jess Thom suggesting that listening to the experience of people with disabilities and chronic illnesses would help the able-bodied better understand and cope with the experience of lockdown. Graeae theatre’s lockdown works also suggest that as creatives we also have a lot to learn from ‘crip theatre’, and from creatives who have been thinking laterally about access and constraint throughout their practice.

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