Every Friday, I put on an invisibility cloak and head off to a cafe in the centre of Bristol. Surrounding myself with the most honest, brave and open hearted people I have ever met. Whatever my week has been like, wherever my head has wandered off to since the previous Friday, I leave that building grounded and inspired. In the company of this group I get to see humanity unveiled. I see people stripped bare to their true nature. I view the general public being ignorant, kind, predatory, open-minded and most of all completely themselves, with their simple interactions. Cafe staff have an open purse offered to them. One of our group may visit as Elvis, or Dr.Who; spontaneous singing and smiling has been known to occur. Cafe dwellers get to witness laughter. Guaranteed. Regular laughter, eye contact and a shared sense of belonging.
I’m not an advocate for disability issues. Human issues are what interest me. You can’t possibly speak for a diverse group of people.”
I work for a theatre company ran by and for adults with learning difficulties. Most people have something a bit extra they need to deal with in their lives, be it a physical health challenge or a mental one. I am a great believer in the philosophy that everyone walking on this planet has something about themselves that challenges them to a certain degree, some more than others. Interestingly the characters that triumph over adversity are not always the ones with the smallest obstacles to overcome. I witness vulnerability and strength in equal measures, as I invite people to join the theatre group upstairs. I would with any group of people that I work with.
“Society’s accumulated myths and fears about disability and disease are as handicapping as are the physical limitations that flow from actual impairment.”
It’s normal for me to be part of the Misfits
and yet I forget that some members of the community find disability too difficult to make time for. Some eyes do not focus on what is right in front of them. Voices are raised in protest of difference. Why? Difference is everywhere, how is it possible to be angered by it?
People in our group share stories of abuse, the cigarette stink of spit as it lands and spreads its warmth on exposed skin. The stab of raw pain, when ignorance is thrown in our path.’Retard.’ ‘Idiot.’ ‘Useless.’ Phrases that line the streets our communities walk on, where un-educated groups want a community where people all look the same. That’s not what we focus on, or what we discuss in our theatre sessions. We know the secret to success, life the universe and everything. Create a group that supports each other. Finding common themes that bring us together, love, lost things, aspirations, heroes and dreams. We remember the whole process of working together and treating each other with basic respect and support is the ground rule. It’s such common sense, I cannot understand why that doesn’t happen everywhere. If someone is talking too fast, we ask them to slow down, if someone is ill, we ask what’s wrong. We notice each other, make eye contact, play games, share stories from our day today real life and some of our fantasies. We can work in soul shattering silence and give space to what is present in the studio.
“Concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.”
have a talent for performing, they are employed to train professional doctors, nurses, university staff, amongst others. They offer training to these professionals on how to work with people with learning difficulties, and a lot about how to be a human being. Promoting equality and tackling issues that have become unseen or unheard about – that is the Misfits theatre company.
“Disability is a matter of perception. If you can do just one thing well, you’re needed by someone.”