The Great British Stage Swindle

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The Great British Stage Swindle is a Disability Arts Online Covid Commission proposed by theatre and screen writer/director, campaigner and activist Vici Wreford-Sinnott. It acts as a follow-along writing workshop featuring Vici and other theatre-makers Simon Startin, Cheryl Martin and Bea Webster. The workshop has captions (toggle on/off using the CC button), BSL and audio description.

Vici trained in theatre direction at University of Kent and set up her first feminist theatre company, cirque des femmes, in 1992. A longstanding figure in the UK disability arts movement, she is Artistic Director of Little Cog, a disabled-led company based in the North East of England and working nationally, internationally and digitally.

Vici is joined by experienced playwrights, theatre-makers, actors and directors Simon Startin, Cheryl Martin and Bea Webster to explore both some practical writing exercises and also discussion about key themes around disability, and its many absences, on our stages.

This isn’t a ‘how to write a play’ workshop, instead, it hopefully gives food for thought for other disabled writers who can work along with the session in real-time, or listen to the discussions, about methods, processes and journeys into narrative, voice, character and structure, with each of the guest sharing exercises and ideas.

Vici’s provocation here is that after a fifty-year human rights and cultural movement in this country, the disability rights movement, she still feels swindled about the representations and delivery of disability on UK stages, be they small, medium or large. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been amazing achievements within those decades by disabled practitioners – there have, but we’re still not prioritized and our stories still seem to be told in certain ways in the dominant arts world.

Disabled people have a key stake in our national story and until we are included, we are not telling the truth about who we are as a society.

Bea Webster

Bea Webster is a deaf Scottish-Thai actor and theatre-maker who graduated with a BA Performance in British Sign Language and English from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Recent Theatre Credits: The Winter’s Tale (Royal Shakespeare Company) Peeling (Taking Flight Theatre Company), Mother Courage and Her Children (Red Ladder Theatre Company), Love and Information (Solar Bear/RCS) A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Last Woman Left, Scavengers, Antigone (RCS).

Bea wrote, performed and directed House of Ladies for RCS’s On The Verge festival at the Citizens Theatre. She also co-wrote and devised Everything Will Be Perfect, playing drag queen Lyn Chee alongside Jamie Rea as Vikki Ryan. She has published a poem in both BSL and English titled Long Lost Lover, about her birthplace of Thailand. She also performed in BBC Social’s How not to be d*cks to deaf people.

She was nominated Best Actress in a Play at The Stage Debut Awards 2019 for her role of Kattrin in Mother Courage and Her Children, and is also one of the Playwrights Studio Scotland’s mentored playwrights for 2020.

Bea communicates in both Spoken English and British Sign Language.

Cheryl Martin

Cheryl Martin is a unique voice in today’s theatre, both in her own performances and in the work she makes with others as a director. In both kinds of work, she examines experiences that most people are afraid to talk about, but approaches them with a humour, warmth, and raw honesty that draws audiences in and allows them to explore with her, fearlessly. Whether directing a writer like Alan Bissett in unearthing Scotland’s uneasy colonial history, or performing in her one-person show to unearth a personal history of hospitalisation and mental illness, she brings a lightness and wealth of imagery to create worlds audiences love to dwell in.

That relationship with the audience is always key, creating a bond, creating trust, carrying them with you into a world they may think they fear to enter. In many immersive shows created with refugees, she invites the audience to live, for a short time, what other people’s lives feel like. With the joy and the wonder and the beauty that entails, as well as the harsh edges.

Simon Startin

Simon is a director, actor, published playwright and disability rights activist with a career spanning 29 years. He is an associate artist of Theatre Royal Stratford East, London Bubble and Graeae Theatre. He is an alumni of the Battersea Art Centre 21st century leadership scheme, Young Vic directors placement and the China Plate Enhanced Optimists course.

Simon is Artistic Director of Vital Xposure Theatre Company.

As an activist he has worked with many organisations including the BBC, National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, Creative Diversity Network, ARC Stockton Arts Centre and London Theatre Consortium to increase disabled representation on stage and screen.

As an actor he has appeared in 29 professional productions most recently at the National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, Arcola and Birmingham Rep, as well as TV roles on BBC, Channel 4 and Paramount. He has directed at the Young Vic, RSC and Nottingham Playhouse, and his 2015 production of “Cinema” for Zendeh was awarded British Theatre Guide’s Best Small Scale touring production.

Vici Wreford-Sinnott

Vici is an award-winning disabled theatre writer/director, screenwriter, activist and equality strategist whose work tours nationally and internationally, and now digitally. She is the Artistic Director of Little Cog which is a disabled-led theatre company based in the North East of England. Vici has been active in the UK Disability Arts movement for almost thirty years, and has developed a number of pioneering projects, productions and models of equality practice, to ensure that the stories of disabled people are placed centre-stage in culture.

Vici has produced a number of lockdown productions, spoken on panels and produced writings on disabled peoples’ experiences. She wrote, directed and also appears in Funny Peculiar starring Liz Carr (BBC Silent Witness), Mandy Colleran (Comedian and activist) and Bea Webster (Royal Shakespeare Company and Playwrights Studio, Scotland). The piece has been screened at a series of international film festivals, was awarded distribution support from The Space, and the playscript will be published in early 2021 by Salamander Street.

Vici’s original theatre work includes Butterfly (Best One Person Play 2018 British Theatre Guide, National Tour), Lighthouse (bilingual piece in English and BSL, British Premiere ARC Stockton), Another England (National Tour), The Art Of Not Getting Lost (ARC Stockton and Northern Stage), Vote for Caliban (Northern Stage), Deadly Devotchka (Edinburgh Fringe), Moll Cutpurse: A Comedy for the 21st Century (UK and Ireland Tour). Vici has many directing, producing and mentoring credits and is committed to creating platforms for the voices of disabled artists.

Vici is regarded as an authority on disability representation and equality, featuring regularly as a keynote speaker and panellist on theatre, cultural equality, representation and political work. She is currently doing a PhD is Disability Theatre and Disabled Women’s Voices.