Oldham Coliseum and DANC explore ‘Distance’ through experiences of disabled artists

Oldham Coliseum Theatre and TripleC/DANC have joined forces to commission, produce and present three short audio plays by disabled writers, based on the theme of ‘Distance’.

Inspired by the writers’ real-life experiences, the five-minute plays offer insight into the emotional challenges faced by disabled people in managing their conditions, shielding and the easing of the UK lockdown.

Distance by DANC writers and performers

TripleC is a disabled led arts organisation that creates projects to break down the barriers for people with disabilities accessing the arts.

DANC is the professional strand of TripleC; it champions solution-focussed events, workshops and conversations between disabled artists and key industry decision makers to increase representation, inclusivity and employment of disabled artists in the arts and media sector.

In May Oldham Coliseum, TripleC and DANC invited writers who are part of DANC to submit short plays based on the theme of ‘Distance’ for the fourth episode of the theatre’s Mini-Podcast Series.

Actors Cherylee Houston and Melissa Johns (co-creators of TripleC/DANC) said: “We’ve loved working with Oldham Coliseum on the mini plays.

“DANC has such a wealth of talent and it’s been great to offer creative opportunities during such an uncertain time.”

The three selected short plays produced for the episode are: Personal Space by Adam Fenton; From a Distance by Andrew Duffy and 25 Metres From Salsa by Karen Featherstone. All actors cast in the episode are also members of DANC.

Personal Space is a piece about when the smallest of acts feel massive, how distance is relative and why closeness isn’t always about proximity.

Sam wants to enjoy the vast expanse of the known universe, but he can’t do that without some crisps. The corner shop is just down the road but that feels like a lightyear away for this would-be space explorer. He must find a way to make a leap into a world that feels so alien, the one just outside his front door.

Writer Adam Fenton trained as an actor at ALRA North and has since been pursuing a career in writing and performing. He has worked at BAC, with Graeae Theatre on Crips Without Constraints and is currently developing a new play about Tourette’s Syndrome.

Adam commented: “During lockdown I, like many people, have been experiencing anxiety about leaving the house. To counteract this I’ve been doing a lot of writing to keep my mind occupied so when I saw the opportunity to write for the Coliseum’s Mini-Podcast Series I knew I wanted to submit something.

“With an hour to go before submissions closed I realised that instead of trying to distract from my anxiety I should explore it through writing and combine it with something that gives me comfort, space!”

Personal Space is read by actor Milton Lopes, whose credits include The Threepenny Opera (Graeae Theatre Company, New Wolsey Theatre, Nottingham Playhouse, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Birmingham Rep); Titus Andronicus (The Theory of Everything at Peckham multi-story car park); Our Country’s Good (Ramps On The Moon); The Three Musketeers (The Dukes Lancaster); Death Of A Salesman (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester); Splash (Extraordinary Bodies) and the Paralympic Opening Ceremonies.

From a Distance is a conversation between a man who is shielding at home and his grandmother who is living with dementia and is shielding in a care home.

Writer Andrew Duffy has been involved with TripleC and DANC since 2018. He has performed his own work for CO:Lab at Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester, acted with Manchester ADP at The Lowry in Salford, OffCut at Manchester’s 53Two and last summer performed his own eight-minute comedy for BBC Ouch at the Edinburgh Festival which was shown on BBC2.

Andrew commented: “From A Distance was inspired by my daily conversations with my nan. She has dementia and lives in a care home in Romiley. Sadly, we lost my granddad, who also lived there, in February, but she is not aware as it would’ve been too hard for her.

“She has had coronavirus whilst in the home but was asymptomatic. She really enjoys our chats every day. As we are both shielding I was playing around with her interpretation of the world. Like everyone, I look forward to the day we can meet up and hug our loved ones again.”

From A Distance is read by Caron Rae-Brand and Fergus Rattigan. Caron’s credits include: Cheers to the Children (writer – Old Barber’s Shop, Glasgow) and The Most Horrific and Chair Life (Theatre Uncut). Fergus’s credits include: Our Country’s Good (Ramps On The Moon) and Wizard of Oz (Storyhouse, Chester). During the UK lockdown Fergus has appeared in Henry IV part II (The Show Must Go Online); Richard III and As You Like It (Shake-Scene Shakespeare) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Worldwide Shakespeare).

In 25 Metres From Salsa we meet Alf as he has his walking assessed to see if he is eligible for a medication to improve it. Writer Karen Featherstone received a Northern Writers’ Award in 2015. She has spent time in the story offices of Coronation Street and Emmerdale, in an alumna of Graeae Theatre’s Write to Play initiative.

Karen commented: “25 Metres From Salsa is inspired by my experience of having medication withheld until symptoms worsened. I wanted Alf to occupy that strange headspace in which he knows his condition must deteriorate in order for it to have the best chance of improving”.

25 Metres From Salsa is read by Porcelain Delaney, Simon Startin and Caron Rae-Brand. Porcelain’s credits include: Rigoletto (Blackpool Grand Theatre, Manchester Opera House and Liverpool Empire); Peter Pan (International tour) and Hamlet (UK tour). Simon’s credits include: The Visit (National Theatre); Romeo & Juliet and Richard III (Shakespeare’s Rose) and Ralegh (Shakespeare’s Globe).

Oldham Coliseum Theatre’s Mini-Podcast Series was launched on World Theatre Day 2020, just one week into the UK lockdown. It shares original works by people of all ages and backgrounds from the communities the theatre serves.

For each episode the Coliseum invites writers to respond to a theme within a specified length, with pieces ranging from 100 words to a 20-minute short audio-play.

All pieces in the series are recorded remotely by professional actors and edited by the theatre’s Digital Associate Grant Archer.

The Coliseum’s Mini-Podcast Series is free to access online at: coliseum.org.uk/mini-podcast-series/.

Oldham Coliseum Theatre’s building on Fairbottom Street in Oldham town centre is temporarily closed. The Coliseum’s teams are working remotely to create art and opportunities which can be shared online so audiences and participants can access them from home.

Oldham Coliseum Theatre has only closed once before in its 135-year history. If you would like to support the Coliseum, the theatre asks that audiences consider donating all or part of their ticket costs for cancelled events, or donating online at coliseum.org.uk/your-coliseum-needs-you

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