Opening doors to the theatre

It did not matter that they were wheelchair bound or had to manage with a limp. Either way, they performed with energy and gusto, taking their audience by surprise. To this troupe of “people with additional needs”, this was proof that they can fully participate in the performing arts from which they are often excluded because of their special needs.

Children from Kampala School for the Physically Handicapped, together with their able-bodied counterparts from Namirembe Infants Primary School, took part in “Muli Mutya! Lancashire” inclusive theatre performance led by Tramshed Theatre Company, (based in Blackpool, United Kingdom), and students of the department of Performing Arts and Film, Makerere University, as well as selected theatre practitioners in Kampala.

The 42 performers covered many topics through music, dance and drama to explore and present their ideas in a pilot theatrical production, whose theme was “Inclusion and working together” at the Uganda National Theatre in Kampala late last year.
The aims of this pilot project are to introduce inclusive arts in Uganda. Inclusive arts involve everyone, whatever their background, personal circumstances or experience.
The performance had a blend of techniques or forms. It relied a lot on image theatre, in which the performers used “body sculptures” to express various issues around inclusion and exclusion.
It also used music or song, in which the “sense of self” was highlighted through the songs. Some of the songs employed sign language.

The production used quite an amount of stylised acting, in which the “mirroring” technique was employed to depict the importance of seeing another person as one would see themselves through a mirror. They also made use of kinaesthetic body movement, contemporary dance, as well as traditional dances from various regions in Uganda.
The project commenced last year in Blackpool and this phase in Uganda was the third. It included a one-week training by Makerere University staff and students, selected arts practitioners from theatre companies in Kampala, and teachers from Namirembe Infants Primary School and Kampala School for the Physically Handicapped.

The training week was followed by a pilot project, comprising 20 children five from Kampala School for the Physically Handicapped and 15 from Namirembe Infants Primary School, working together in an inclusive setting to explore their experiences of, and attitudes towards issues of disability and inclusion.
This project breaks new ground in terms of its inclusive, intercultural approach and intends to engender a culture of inclusive practice in the long-term across homes and international communities.
As to the importance of this project, the coordinator, Muli Mutya! Lancashire Inclusive Theatre Project, Lillian Mbabazi of Makerere University Department of Performing Arts and Film, noted that it opened up possibilities for inclusive theatre practice in Kampala.
“It gave the participants and specifically the children, the freedom to express themselves in an artistic way, to share with each other and have fun in an enabling and safe environment where everybody was valued and respected,” she added.

According to the Arts Team Co-ordinator, TramShed Theatre Company, Zac Hackett, there are very few theatre facilities in the UK that offer the same style of inclusive theatre as TramShed. “Our unique style allows all individuals to take part in performing arts. TramShed operate a strict policy of “No auditions”. If an individual is interested in taking part, they are involved. It is that simple. We have no exclusion or barriers,” Hackett said.

Mbabazi observes that there are not many people with additional needs involved in theatrical performances in most of Uganda’s theatre spaces. “So the question is why not? Are the people with additional needs responsible? I think it is not about people with additional needs trying to fit in, but rather it is about the groups trying to make them fit in. I for one have not seen them really that included in a number of theatre performances I have watched.”
“They have performed either as individuals, in their organisations, or in schools, but then I am not sure if we have good or even sizeable ratios of people with additional needs in most of our theatre groups. Even the infrastructure in our theatre buildings is quite limiting. One will find that most of the spaces in our theatre buildings are not disability friendly,” Mbabazi adds.

The effect
Mbabazi argues that excluding people with additional needs results in denying them the right to take active roles in their own individual and societal development. Theatre has for long been argued to be a tool for expression, communication, education and many other key things needed for human aancement.
“Therefore, excluding people with additional needs from theatre activities essentially means that one is more or less excluding such a person from avenues that would promote that individual and society. This is a violation of people’s rights to engage and to express themselves. Inclusive practice in whatever aspect you fit it in should be a model for society. Society may not grow if some sections of people are left behind. This would be “pseudo-development,” and not development,” Mbabazi adds.

“Our school allows us to take part in music and drama because it is our right to do so. I have not heard of schools that discourage children like us from taking part in theatre,” the 12-year-old Amos Kigula, a Primary Five pupil of Kampala School for the Physically Handicapped said.

“Throughout our society there are millions of talented individuals. Some of these find themselves in the minority of people for other reasons that are beyond their control. They are often excluded from both theatre activities and society, which often makes them feel withdrawn, alone and undervalued,” Hackett said.
“TramShed is trying to give opportunities to those who are often excluded. With our vision of an inclusive way of working, we believe we can work in harmony with others, create powerful theatre and give individuals a voice. Inclusive theatre gives everyone the chance to develop their skills within performance,” Hackett added.
On their return to the UK, the TramShed team delivered a further 10 sessions with the original inclusive groups of children using their experience from Uganda.

About TramShed
TramShed are specialists in inclusive arts practice. Established as a registered charity in 2007, they offer inclusive performing arts workshops to children, young people and adults in the local community, irrespective of health, socialethnic background or ability. Its focus is on ability, not disability. This allows it to access many people who have previously been excluded from the performing arts.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor


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