New theatre company will give silenced voices vital exposure


A new disabled-led theatre company is setting out to hear the voices of some of the artists most often excluded and sidelined by the arts world.

Vital Xposure, which launches officially next month, is led by the award-winning writer and performer Julie McNamara.

Disabled directors, designers and writers still find it almost impossible to find theatre work, says McNamara, so she ensures that her work profiles disabled artists, with her new company highlighting the talents of mental health system survivors and people with learning difficulties.

She says: “It is very important to me as a mental health system survivor that new opportunities include these two groups of people.

“We are constantly left off the agenda in arts organisations. There are ‘impairment specific’ companies, but precious few with integrated creative teams working in theatre.”

Although she says there are “extraordinary companies like Graeae out there producing fabulous work”, they only work with people with physical and sensory impairments.

Vital Xposure will champion new writing, says McNamara, and stories that have “emerged from the lives of disenfranchised people who have been hived off into the margins of our society for far too long”.

Its current sell-out production, The Knitting Circle, was created from the testimony of survivors of the old long-stay asylums.

The actors were matched up with people who had survived the asylums, to ensure that the stories they told portrayed the lives of people who had “survived against enormous odds”.

McNamara says: “It made the work far more authentic, with an emotional truth and an integrity that I find sadly lacking in some theatres today.”

She has had to put plans for an autumn tour of The Knitting Circle on hold because she says the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics have “drained the small-scale theatre world of resources”.

Despite the “bleak” financial climate, she and fellow writer and performer Liz Carr are also working on a new dark comedy, It Should’ve Happened for Crazy Jane, which portrays the final moments of two hoarders who are trapped in a basement after their house has collapsed on top of them.

And next month, Vital Xposure will launch Chaos Calls, a book of McNamara’s paintings and poetry gathered together from what was “a ten year period of utter despair”, a book that has been described as a “unique glimpse into the landscapes of sheer madness”.

It took her four years to recover the paintings from the hospital where she was treated, because it considered them to be “therapeutic notes”.

She adds: “Hospitals are no longer allowed to keep body fluids without written consent. A fact I reminded them of when I told them: ‘These paintings were made from my blood, sweat and tears.’”

22 May 2012 

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