Jo Paul (JP): Hi my name’s Jo Paul and I’m an artist and umm I have been in the past a set and costume designer, quite often for Spare Tyre, and umm I’m a facilitator in drama and the arts.

Arti Prashar (AP): When was the first time you heard about Spare Tyre?

JP:  They asked me to design their 20th anniversary party which had a purple and pink theme and I made these massive bean bags. One of them was a 2 and one of them was a 0, so one was a massive doughnut. And various other, lots of glitter I remember lots of glitter.

AP: Yeah
 
JP:  Purple tablecloths I think.

AP: So after you discovered them, what was the journey after that?

JP: So after the party I don’t actually remember the order of things but at some point they must have asked me to come and run some workshops in design. So for some reason they trusted me (laughs) to do some design work. Umm so and I worked with a group of people with err, adults with learning disabilities. I think either yearly or regularly I just carried on from there working and doing the shows until you came along.

AP: (laughs)
 
JP: And then we did some more. (laughs)
 
AP: We did a lot of shows together and there was a lot of learning and in fact I think we almost defined a practice.

JP: I think we did.

AP: And, do you have any thoughts about that?

JP: Yeah you me and Julia.

AP: Yes

JP: So we had drama and and the direction from you and the sound and the music from Julia and then the visual from me. I think we worked quite a lot with shorter stories within bigger stories so that anybody’s individual skill area or desire in where they wanted to act or whatever story they wanted to explore could could be there but was part of a whole. I think it was that we were keeping an eye on so the design could keep it as part of the whole. Your direction could keep it as part of the whole and the sound and music did that too. But also all those things helped to trigger them

AP: Yeah

JP: and direct them and remind them and all those things, wasn’t it?

AP: Which was critical wasn’t it?

JP: It was

AP: Which was an interesting device that we started to use increasingly and all those visually or though sound umm that we were actually beginning to use those triggers. Because actually we didn’t want to be on stage with them

JP: No

AP: We didn’t-

JP: That was quite new at the time wasn’t it?

AP: That was very new that it

JP: Yeah

AP: It was them who would be performing on set.

JP: I, that that was quite new at the time and I think that was, we were very definite about that and very excited about that.

AP: We’re also feeling that actually there’s a bit of a regression going on

JP: That could be true

AP: With that, with the LD [learning disabled] community

JP: Yeah that could be true

AP: So all those steps that we made to forge ahead

JP: Yeah

AP: There is a little bit of that going on. I think there is a sense of that around

JP: Yeah

AP: Can I, can I ask you on on the back of that work with the community, did you regard yourself as a disabled artist?

JP: I think at the time back then I was very much exploring that. Umm 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 anymore. And if I do get asked to I feel a bit odd about that umm because 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.

AP: And is is the politics in the arts important for you?

JP: I think it it is important. It’s important to maintain it. Umm I think the younger artists that are coming up are a little different in how they approach it. That’s what I’ve been observing. They are a bit more “This is my right. Just get on with it.” Rather than “I need to shout about it and and wave flags about it.” They’re just assuming which is great I think. Obviously they’re going to have battles on their hands sometimes but it, they just they think in an equal way which is great.

AP: Where are we when it comes to disability and the arts and and having a voice actually?

JP: I think that participatory arts is crucial because there’s always people who aren’t exposed to that equality or that social model. Never heard of it. You know the sort – there’s so many people who’ve never heard of it who you think would have heard of it. It’s really frustrating. So there’s still, you know, loads of work to be done.

AP: If I was to ask you for you what were the top three pieces of work or shows that you’ve done with Spare Tyre, what would they be?

JP: What was the one we were just talking about in the office with the lift and the lamp?

AP: That was DarkInc.

JP: DarkInc, that’s it. I loved that show.
 
AP: DarkInc

JP: I loved working on that show and uhh I loved making all the little gizmos and models and we made a severed head didn’t we?

AP: Yeah

JP: And (laughs) all sorts of things.

AP: That, that was extraordinary because actually there there was another taboo subject
 
JP: Yeah

AP: Which surfaced uhh we were looking at 1930s Germany I think that’s where all the themes came from

JP: That’s right, yeah, expressionism

AP: Yes, absolutely! And but a lot of dark stuff came out of, a lot of mental health issues came out as well as huge creativity.

JP: Yeah, a massive amount and it was… such a lot of good source material to do visuals from that it was just brilliant and I I loved the show. But I adored working with the elders group I really loved doing that in Camden.

AP: Ah yes, yeah

JP: We, I just think we did sort of research didn’t we on improve and things like that? And umm I had such a good time with them honestly. I remember being quite nervous of working with them when I first drove along to get there and I was like “ooh gosh what’s it going to be like to work with these guys?” and I I adored it and I I got I learned so much from them. Hopefully they learned something from me as well. Because that’s when you get to connect with people.

AP: Yes
 
JP: And I’m all about connection really (laughs) I thrive on connection.

AP: Yeah

JP: So umm that’s yeah, I loved that. I mean I love it when the lights come on and you know the music comes up and it’s like “here we go” and it’s such a proud moment for everybody. I love that moment. Umm but yeah I like, I like the process. Umm what else? Do you know what the stuff in umm Redbridge, Redbridge Drama Centre?

AP: I think, are you talking about Pieces of Ourselves?

JP: Uhh yes things like that and where the workshops, how the workshops led to that. Umm exploring just using newspapers and making, I think we made a film with Ellie and, a scratch film. Snow White umm and just sort of did some strange things there.

JP: Oh I know what you mean

JP: Umm and it just all went I think you’re right it went towards Pieces of Ourselves and that in Ellie’s big uhh velvet cream clean cloak

AP: (laughs)

JP: Such a perfect vision (laughs) a lot of my work involves umm is actually exploring connection.

AP: Okay

JP: and threads and connection with yourself, connection with other people umm connection in this age of technology where we’re doing that all the time. Umm so I’m just going to do a mini version of something like that.

AP: That would be amazing.

JP: So you’re going to have to be in it (laughs)
 
AP: Okay. What do you want me to do?

JP: I’m not quite sure yet (laughs)

JP: So I think you need to come with me otherwise it’s meaningless.

AP: Okay, meant to be meaningful.

JP: Oops!

JP: That, that’s you.

AP: Okay (laughs)
 
JP: So I’m going to start the umm thread from going behind you where this little pipe is. Let’s go right over to those hooks.

AP: Okay. Okay.

JP: Okay good and then I’ll put another one

Both AP and JP: (laughs)

JP: So, just gonna link you to the chair, excuse me. Maybe come around (laughs) tie you in. Camera and Victor. Victor could you take that around your camera somehow. Great.

AP: Challenging

JP: Very! Very dexterous . I’, just gonna show that we were having a chat here as well. I better tie myself to you for a while otherwise it’s not equal. We like equal (laughs)
 
AP: And together

JP: And being together. And that was our journey. Well it was your journey mainly but that was uhh the threads that show.

AP: It obviously brings out a lot of chat and discussion when you do this with all sorts of different people.

JP: Yeah I don’t let, you might ask how it feels to be semi tied into the chair

AP: Yes

JP: And what does that mean? What does that feel like in life?

AP: Yeah

JP: Or umm is It okay that you’re like that?

AP: But you see my head instantly went to umm sex I’m afraid (laughs)

JP: Yeah it was a bit sexual, yeah we do go there sometimes with Spare Tyre don’t we? We like to (…) and then just the obvious phrases of who’s here and being very real.

AP: Yeah. Why, how have you come to those phrases in particular, she was here, she travelled here, she is here now?

JP: I think I made connection to the time and umm past present and future. So we might have gone on to do she’s going over there but you wouldn’t be there. SO I could have actually throw it couldn’t I? If I umm release a bit of the string and we pretend there’s a piece of paper that says “she might go over there” that would represent that. And that’s our instillation.
 
AP: So a future or a past

JP: Or a potential

AP: Or a potential (laughs) I’ve never been in an instillation before

JP: (laughs) (…)

AP: There we go

JP: This is where she is, right here
 
AP: It makes you feel, it makes you feel very important.
 
JP: You are important.

AP: To be in a chair even even, even wrapped in string

JP: (laughs)

AP: Makes you feel very important

JP: She is important
 
Both AP and JP: (laughs)

Jo Paul is a set designer for theatre, film and dance, and a participatory arts tutor. Jo's worked with us on projects including inc.Theatre, an accredited course for learning disabled adults.
 
Jo spoke to us about the processes behind a Spare Tyre project.