(Arti) There's lots of different Davids here... and actually every now and then a different David surfaces, is that right?
(David) Yes. It's just that I'm a, I'm a many-sided dice and, when you roll me you never know what you're going to get
(Dominic) So then you end up bringing your tool kit, the one that you've built, into Spare Tyre
(Dominic) And, so what d'you do first, what’s the first things you did?
(Arti) So, when I interviewed for the job it was to work with the um, the group of adults with learning disabilities. And that's, and I've always done that.
(Arti) And I suppose that was part of my... why I was attracted to the job, as well, to be able to do that.
(Arti) So that's what I went in to do, to direct a show with them.
(Arti) And, it kind of just escalated from there. So you know, went in to do that, I did a project with homeless people
(Arti) made the project, err, with adults with learning disabilities into a course.
(Dominic) A teaching course?
(Arti) A theatre course. Skills, building their skills, which was always all built around soft skills. But it was an accredited 'OCN' course which we developed. Y'know it wasn't me on my own, we were working with some really, really, skilled artists. So people like Jo Paul, Julia Schauerman, Isaac Ngugi. So y'know, so that's, that's how that all started to develop.
(Isaac) ...an accredited course at that time –
(Arti) For adults with learning disabilities.
(Isaac) - absolutely, yeah in 2004. I mean that was... quite ground-breaking, really.
(Isaac) I’d not worked on an accredited course like that, and what was interesting for me. Um, working with, er, the group, was that there was a lot of those group members that had been part of Spare Tyre, er, for a long time. This was, for them, something that was nuturing them as artists. And as the course progressed the way that they would refer to themselves would be more and more, 'I'm an Artist - this is who I am'
(Arti) Can I ask you, on the back of that work with the community, did you regard yourself as a 'disabled artist'?
(Jo) I think at the time back then, I was very much exploring that. I think I was exploring it as a political label. And that was really important to me, and it was always that question about, 'disabled artist', 'artist who's disabled', 'disabled woman', woman first, artist first, disabled first - which one comes first? So yeah I did, I did definitely identify as a disabled artist. I think my journey has grown... through the years. So that, I don't feel like I need to shout it any more and if I do get asked to, I feel a bit odd about that. Um cos I, I just do what I do. But I just don't find it an important label to put at the front of everything anymore.
(Vicky) Deafness is, err, a very hidden disability - you don't look deaf. People make very funny faces at you when you when you reply to something that they've asked you.
(Arti) So how have you managed performing?
(Vicky) Well Spare Tyre does help me in performance, in that I can't take a sound cue, but generally Spare Tyre have accommodated this, recognised the problems that I have in performance, and try and nudge me, or have somebody around who can er, do the listening for cues.
(Arti) How do you respond to the fact that people do see you as an artist with learning disabilities?
(David) I try not to think about it. The barrier is in fact in other peoples minds and how they perceive...sometimes the barrier is more to do with perception than reality. They think they know you but they don't, it's like a magic trick. You think you know, you think you've seen, you think you're seeing the whole picture, but in fact you're not. You're seeing the... you think you're seeing the whole picture when in fact... mind the gap! Or as they say on London transport, 'Mind the Gap' the gap between what you perceive and what you, and what you actually know.
(Arti) I wondered if you had any thoughts about, um, the very first time that you came to a session and I'm not sure whether you reveal that you had, er, a hearing disability.
(Vicky) Well I never even thought that it would, anybody, nobody in my life has ever made any attempt to do anything for me, to speak better... they notice when I don't hear them, or they get angry at me, or... or all sorts of, have all sorts of strange, er, responses to me. And I think that perhaps, is what Spare Tyre... um, how Spare Tyre hooked me in I think even... was to say 'look, you have a disability and we can accommodate that'. If I was ever given a, a leaflet that y'know said 'tick all these things that are wrong with you' I definitely wouldn't ever have ticked 'disabled' (!)
(Arti) You found yourself back in Wales
(Arti) And um, and, and what's that been like for participatory arts and what you've done? After Spare Tyre I went and I lived away from the UK for a couple of years. Um, the majority of it I spent two years working teaching English in Poland, um, and during that time actually what I worked out I missed the group, the inc.Theatre group. It was people like Bob and David Munns (laughs) and Ell- is it Ellie?
(Arti) It is Ellie
(Ben) Yeah, erm, that came to my mind, and that sort of, and being around that group so when I joined the company one of the first things that... I introduced, erm, was the Hijinx Unity Festival, erm, and, so the Unity Festival is an inclusive arts festival so it's for companies like, like Hijinx, and like Spare Tyre, and that was very much because my - having worked for both organisations - I felt that the work that we were both doing was, was fantastic, but didn't get the recognition. We had an opportunity to create a partnership with quite a high profile venue, to offer a platform for companies to perform. So Spare Tyre I know actually came down for the first festival that we ran
(Arti) Yeah, with Dark Inc!
(Ben) which was lovely, yeah with Dark Inc! (both laughing) which was brilliant and lovely kind of link to be able to kind of bring both the companies together. The, the festival has, reflects the sort of growth that the company, and participatory arts I guess, within Wales has had and it's something that people, erm, y'know... really want to be part of. In terms of, a part of the programme and also y'know I think in Wales at least, it has helped to push to the forefront, erm, some of the companies that are working inclusively and in disabliity arts and disabled artists as well, over the ten years.
(Jo) What makes participatory arts accessible? Yeah I mean there's still a whole bunch of people out there, varying ages, that don't know what their needs are don't know how to ask,
don't have the confidence, or... maybe their communication method is different than the one that's normally accepted, so um, all those things need to be encompassed in participatory arts. I recently did a workshop, that actually you guys sent me on, with 'Beautiful Mess' and that was such a wonderful day, and we explored advocacy.
(Jo) It was about advocacy, and the day was brilliant, and one of the questions that has stayed with me since, and it's a word that I don't use very often because it's got connotations with disability - is 'what's the bravest thing you can do?' and so, the word 'brave' is sometimes attributed to disabled people as 'tragic but brave', so I'm a little bit averse to that word, um, but in the context of this particular day the question 'what's the bravest thing you can do? in your next groups or participatory workshops or whatever?' was such a fantastic question, and um, the answer that I came up with,was to embrace peoples anger. And to um, give that a voice. Often, very often people, particularly with learning disabilties, are quietened down 'be quiet, you can't say that, you can't be angry about that, everything's fine' And I think the bravest thing I can do is allow them to speak out and say 'no it's not bloody fine' And I'd always been interested in theatre since my school days.
(Arti) So, I, I know you don't really like the term 'learning disability' for yourself
(David) I'm not really a fan, I'm not really a fan of labels per se. The labels I do like are 'writer', 'actor', 'magician'. Those are labels I like, those are labels I can live with.
(Isaac) Working with Ellie, and um, she's getting her arm out, she's taking her arm out and, this was a scene where she was dancing provocatively on a trolley with, er, members of the 'Company of Artists', I think it was Linda and Vicky, throwing money at her –
(Isaac) ...and I remember the audience going 'wha, wait, what?!' Do y'know what I mean it was just sort of, 'wow'. Um, I remember the 'Scratch' (Scratches) where she worked with, er, Danny, and she was off her chair as well, and in fact it was an extraordinary piece because Danny was on her chair at one point and Ellie, her thing was… There were two aspects - she wanted to explore sexuality, and she wanted to get out of her chair.
(Arti) But actually if you're a visual artist you have your 'early period' your 'mid-life period' and then your later stages, and in a way I guess what you've just described - Ellie has just done that.
(Arti) with one consistent theme all the way through, and y'know she's been about freedom and sexuality.
(Arti) David we, we did err, at Spare Tyre, um, what I would consider a first. And that is that we managed to get to BBC Radio Drama, and we created scripts.
(Arti) can you remember what you did?
(David) 'Morgan's Lake'.I always say, I always ask, 'what would you do if you lost your best friend?' And er... how would you feel? I thought of a story about these two brothers. Basically they're talking about rumours about what's in the lake and, they're in a fishing boat late at night and one of them perhaps might be drunk, they're going fishing and er, and then suddenly one of them gets a bite and then they're pulled into the lake. It was something I'd always wanted to do actually, I felt that that was a very, I felt that it was very, I felt very professional. And er,I knew exactly what I was doing, and I knew exactly what I was doing. And I felt 'yes' I was in control, I knew exactly what I was doing. I was a little worried about things at that time, and it's reflected in 'Morgan's Lake' I think. A lot of my work comes from a personal space as well.
(Ben) We ended up with this puppet, um, 'Fred', who he became, um, who has to kind of live his life in a world that isn't designed for him, and so we explored things like Fred going to the job centre, and being offered three awful options for jobs, none of which were appropriate, on the threat that if he didn't take one of them he'd loose one of his puppeteers. It's probably, in the thirty-year history of the company it's become the most successful show. Within that show is all the experience that I've had both, kind of through my work with Spare Tyre when I was here and then since starting with Hijinx, it's all kind of come in to... and speaks through that show.
(Arti) What were your hopes when you went to audition?
(David) Well basic- well I didn't really have a pla- I didn't really have a plan I was a bit desperate at the time. Well 'Oakside' was closing down.'Oakside' was a sort of employment kind of training kind of place. But... –
(Arti) For adults with learning disabilities –
(David) Yes. And they would train, and basically they were doing, they were basically getting you to package stuff in bags and stuff like that. It was a bit demoralising to be quite honest with you. And frustrating, and frustrating at times .I think there are people who still need help, but, you should look at it more on a case-by-case basis. And say 'this person needs this type of help' and 'that person needs that type of help' but just try to see the person. But don't sort of like, in other words don't make assumptions. Which is something we all do. Don't make assumptions! In other words don't make... assumptions. For example you may see two, you may see, someone holding a spoon. Now, if someone holds a spoon in this way nobody holds a spoon in this way normally. But, you see this part of the spoon, you see this part of the spoon and you think you're seeing a solid spoon. But then, the person holds it and the spoon starts bending in the middle, and then it falls apart. You think, 'how are they able to do that?' When in fact, they're not holding a spoon - they are holding a spoon, but a spoon that's been cut in the mid- that's already been cut in the middle. They see this bit, they see this bit, and they think they're seeing a whole spoon. But they're not. As I always say, 'mind the gap'.