I’m a Theatre Artist, who writes, performs, and directs. And I sing, too. Primarily jazz. I first heard of CAN when I applied for a job directing refugee artists for a long-term project.
That project became Another Country, which went on to be part of the Arts Council England Decibel Showcase. It took months before people would tell me how they became refugees, and their stories were heroic – the kind of thing you make movies about. I could never get over the difference between their selfless, heroic personal stories and the disgusting demonisation of refugees in some corners of the press. I still can’t.
I got the artists to create an immersive show in which the audience was the protagonists. They got chased and treated the way the artists themselves had on their journeys to the UK. At the end of the piece, the audience was asked whether they had wanted to help a refugee they’d seen caught and imprisoned along their journey through the show. If they answered yes, they were set to one side by the “authorities” to be detained. After seeing the first two or three audience members detained this way, everyone else in the queue would answer “no” – they hadn’t wanted to help the “runaway” refugee.
So, what the audience learned was that in a pretend situation, they wouldn’t stick their necks out – unlike every single artist who worked on that show. That was the takeaway to think about.
I got much-needed training in how to work sensitively with people who have experienced complex trauma. During the pandemic, I’ve been asked many times to talk about how to transcend trauma in art. What I know about it, I learned working at CAN, and through being commissioned by Unlimited who provide significant commissions and support to disabled artists, and I am disabled.
I think I’ve done my best directing for CAN, even though I’ve won awards with more conventional pieces, because the actors were fearless, and would try anything. And the content came from their hearts.
CAN kept me afloat as an artist, it gave me chances no one else was giving me, to do work no one else was doing, for people who gave their all to every project. CAN gave me such fabulous, open-ended opportunities to push the form and scope of my craft.
There are a lot of organisations that do work for audiences they consider disadvantaged or excluded, but not that many who create great art with and by them. CAN does. They are priceless.