‘Just watch, and listen, and take in their story.’

Don’t feel guilty. Don’t feel sorry. Don’t look away. Just watch, and listen, and take in their story.

This Is Not For You

Since its emergence as an artistic and political movement in the 1980s, disability arts has been concerned with recognition—the right of people to be seen, heard and respected on the same, equal basis as everyone else, the right that many take for granted but for which many others have had to fight for all their lives, or after a life-changing event relegates them to a position of new disregard.

‘Some ends are final but some ends are a beginning.’

This Is Not For You

Graeae was founded in 1980 by Nabil Shaban and Richard Tomlinson as the first professional disabled people’s theatre company. Since then it has fought for recognition of disabled people as artists and as citizens, telling unheard stories and familiar stories in unheard ways. It has not simply opened doors for disabled people. It has had to drill through walls and install the doors first. With ramps, clear lighting and accessible handles. Because it was forging new chances for disabled people to make theatre, Graeae has always been about participatory art, helping people cross the border between professional and non-professional roles. Like other participatory art organisations, it knows that professionalism is not about where you trained or how you earn your living, but about seriousness of purpose and the creation of art in your own voice. 

This Is Not For You had its world première yesterday at the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival. The production honours the soldiers of the First World War who came home maimed, disabled and traumatised, and whose names are not found on any memorial. It does that by drawing on the experiences of disabled veterans from more recent wars, who perform with experienced Graeae actors, musicians and BSL interpreters. The result is an extraordinary, powerful, angry and moving insight into realities that are often brushed aside or sentimentalised.

‘When we came home, they didn’t look us in the face. They didn’t look us in the eye.’

This Is Not For You

Getting to the first performance was not easy. It took Graeae’s creative resources, vision and tenacity, and the support of many partners including Blesma, the organisation set up by limbless veterans after WWI, 14-18 Now, which is marking the war’s centenary through artistic commissions, The Drive Project, which produces art projects with a social purpose, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the National Centre for Circus Artsand others. It has taken three years of exploration, setbacks, effort and rethinking. The personal cost for many of those involved has been considerable. But yesterday, that all came together triumphantly in an hour long production watched by hundreds at Woolwich Arsenal on Armed Forces Day.

I’m working with Graeae on the evaluation of This Is Not For You, and I’ll write about the project more fully in coming months. But I wanted to say something about it now because there are only three more opportunities to see it:

It’s worth the journey.

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