After their success with Chris Campion’s Catching the Ghost at the Bloomsbury Festival last year, Extant have been invited to take Amy Bethan Evans new play Tinted there in October. DAO spoke to the playwright to find out about the forthcoming production.
It feels amazing to be a part of the Bloomsbury Festival, especially so soon after Libby’s Eyes. Extant make such brilliant work and to reach a level where they want to produce me is a massive step in my career. It’s my first professional full-length commission and I feel like after a few years of stagnation my career is really starting to take off.
Tinted is a monologue in which my character, a partially sighted woman called Laura browses the internet in the wake of #MeToo and stops at her ex-boyfriend’s posts. Like Libby, Laura shares a lot of my experiences but is also written for the actor playing her. I wanted to bring to light those ordinary developmental visually impaired experiences that don’t get talked about.
I like to think that Laura also breaks the mould by talking about sex. There aren’t enough plays where disabled characters talk about sex and while by all accounts, programmes like the Undateables are sympathetic in how they treat and portray us the title ‘Undateable’ almost legitimises that as an okay word to use when thinking about disabled people. We’re just as dateable as everyone else though we face barriers to doing it the same as we face barriers to everything else.
The good and evil divide is much more blurred with Laura than it is with Libby. Libby’s antagonists are the government and the government thoroughly deserve everything that play throws at them. Laura’s antagonists are different. They are the people who love her, as well as her own sense of self-belief. She’s a flawed character; she makes a lot of mistakes typical of someone her age, or just below her age as the play also addresses social underdevelopment as a consequence of disability.
She’s slightly shallow, vain and vulnerable to peer pressure; all things I have been and still am to a certain degree. (There are references to Libby being like that too, but that isn’t the element the play focuses on.) But she’s also loving, forgiving and wise. I think it’s important to show disabled people being all of those things as my experience of growing up disabled is that I am very naïve about some things but very wise about others, with not a lot of in-between.
Tinted is an extended version of To Be My Eyes, commissioned originally by Theatre 503 as part of The Words Are Coming Now in January 2018. To Be My Eyes was a rapid response to #metoo, which for me was about bringing a disabled voice to the conversation. When I was asked about developing it further, I had a think about the key themes the piece touched on. If I was being honest with myself, the piece was about disability, consent and blurred lines, but it was also about the lack of social development that comes with growing up a disabled person.
To develop the character, I needed to be honest with myself. I tried to get some distance so that I could be braver with the story by fabricating a five-year relationship, but it became apparent that I didn’t have any experience of this. So I ended up drawing on a lot more from my actual life altered to fit the narrative.
Maturing as an artist means that you must overcome inhibitions for the good of your work so I had to be brave and exaggerate the experiences I had. I don’t want to go into how much of it is autobiographical as it isn’t important. There’s a difference between being truthful and being autobiographical and the truth comes in feeling. If fellow visually impaired people relate to it, then it’s truthful and I have to put myself into it to achieve that. It’s taxing but it also means I get to write plays for a living, which is a privilege.
The significance of the #MeToo movement is that it is about a worldwide experience of sexual manipulation and institutionalised sexism. The whole point of saying #metoo is to include everyone who has experienced this and it is hugely important that stories associated with it, are diverse. This includes disability.
Disability rights are human rights and women’s rights are human rights. Intersectionality is really important and disabled women have different experiences to disabled men or non-disabled women. (I acknowledge that there are other genders and other experiences within those genders. I also acknowledge that men can also be victims of sexual manipulation, as was addressed in one of the other pieces in The Words are Coming Now.)
I didn’t find that disabled experience was being addressed in the #MeToo movement so I wanted to put it there. I feel that there are a lot of uncomfortable questions around disability and consent and in a way, the idea of #nogreyarea negates the disabled experience.
What should you do for people and what should you allow them to do themselves? What if you can’t verbally express consent or visually read it? The idea that there are simple way of gleaning consent risks excluding sensory impairment or neurodivergence. It depends on the individual and it often changes with time. How do you feel adult and sexually mature when your mum still has to wipe your face? What do you do about that? It’s so important we have that discussion.
As far as audio-description is concerned the piece is a very wordy monologue and my performer is visually impaired so incorporating audio description will come as the necessity arises. I don’t know yet what visual elements the director will incorporate we can work out if there’s anything I should write in at rehearsal stage.
Extant present Tinted at Bloomsbury Theatre Studio on Thursday, 18 October from 7:30 to 8:30pm. For tickets, go to http://bloomsburyfestival.org.uk/events/event/tinted-amy-bethan-evans/