Oxfordshire Touring Theatre Company
Transcript of Video: 'My name’s Brendan Murray, I’m the artistic director of Oxfordshire Touring Theatre Company. We’re a small-scale, mainly rural touring company in the middle of England and we tour round our local area and sometimes nationally. We’re a regularly funded client of Arts Council England and we’ve been going about 29 years now and Under Milkwood, the show that we’re touring at the moment, is, I think I’m right in saying this, the first time the company has ever worked with actors with different access needs. We’re got a cast of six working with us at the moment. One of the cast is blind, Tim Gebbles, and one is deaf, David Ellington. The show, we originally made it about eighteen months ago, and it’s kind of an experiment I suppose. We programmed it because we do three shows a year normally, one for adult audiences, one for family audiences and one for older people, in residential care. Around about the time that we were programming this work, we were struggling with our strategic plan, because every three, five years, whatever it is, we come up with a strategic plan about how the company’s going to operate and as part of that process, we were being asked by Arts Council England to look at the whole area of diversity and how that might impact on our work and how we could actually positively take that on board and I personally was very nervous about this whole area, I thought, you know, is that going to impinge on my artistic work, am I being issue led, are people telling me what to do and how to do it, and to kind of smooth that process over, Arts Council England initiated a whole series of workshops called Get A Plan, and we went along to these, kind of, trying to think, we won’t bring any of our prejudice with us, let’s see how this is going to work out, and actually I found them quite useful, because it was a safe environment in which to speak, and people were allowed to say, “Well actually, this is my worry, blah blah blah”. The point of Get A Plan was that we actually got a plan, we actually wrote our own diversity action plan, saying what we would do and saying how we’d do it, and one of the areas we looked at in that, we looked at all sorts of things, we looked at how our building was laid out, and we looked at the size of print that we produced, everything, our website, how accessible that was, and one of the areas we looked at was casting and my colleague, Jenny Roberts, said to me, “How come we never employ any actors with disabilities or who are deaf or wheelchair users?” And I was like, “Well I don’t know, they don’t apply, they don’t come through the door, and actually, come to think of it, I don’t know any of those actors” so we took a first decision which was to hold open auditions where we only invited actors with disabilities or hearing impairment or whatever, to come along and meet us, to see if we would like to work with any of them, and to see if any of them would like to work with us. At that first audition, I met two actors, one of whom is Tim and one of who is David, who ended up in the show. The first one who walked through the door was David Ellington, and he’s deaf, his first language is British Sign Language, and he signed a piece for me from Shakespeare, and I was so mesmerised by the beauty of his language, I didn’t understand any of it at all, and I cooked up this sort of idea that would it be interesting to bring David’s language and the beauty of David’s language into Under Milkwood which is a piece which was originally written for radio and is all in the words, it’s a poetic piece, and to ask David to, as it were, be one of the company members, to overlay the poetry of the words with his physical poetry, this signing, and I met with David, asked him if he thought that was a good idea, he was kind of nervous about the play because it’s such difficult language in English and he was wondering how he was going to translate that into sign, he decided to come on board, and then I looked for other actors who would work with David in that process and I thought if I’ve got an actor who only signs and doesn’t speak, I’ll get another actor at the other end of the spectrum who only speaks and doesn’t sign, and I’ll have people in between, who both speak and sign, to different degrees, because what I didn’t want to happen is that, I had the deaf guy over here doing his bit and everybody else separate, and when I auditioned for the other actors, Tim Gebbles’ name came into my head, and he was a blind actor I’d met in the open auditions, and he has a very beautiful voice, Tim Gebbles, and I thought, I’m not going to ask him to come because he’s blind, and I’ve already got a deaf guy, and I’ve never worked with a blind or a deaf guy before which means my life’s going to be complicated enough as it is, and I thought, there’s something about that that’s not very good, I’ll ask him, so I asked him along and he came to the audition, and I said, look, I have to be honest, I really hope you’re going to be crap at this, and that you’re going to read this very badly and then I won’t have to employ you because that’s going to make my life easier, and Tim has a very dry sense of humour and he said, “Why, thanks very much, very helpful, you know”, and then he read the play and it was just beautiful, absolutely beautiful, then I said to him, “Oh, bugger it, I’m going to have to employ you, do you want to do this play?” And he said, “yeah, I’d love to do the play”. So we all came together, and we gave ourselves four weeks to rehearse which was slightly longer than I would rehearse a play normally, and it doesn’t sound a lot, I know, but I allowed myself an extra week because I suspected that things might take a bit longer. We had a very difficult rehearsal period, not because in any way we weren’t getting on but the task we set ourselves, we sat down at the beginning of the process and we said, let’s try and come up with a common language that uses everything that we’ve got in this room to put this play on, and none of us has quite worked in this way before and speaking personally, I completely hadn’t worked in this way before, so my first two weeks of rehearsals were simply finding out what wasn’t going to work, and that’s scary when you’ve only got four weeks rehearsals. But we pressed on, you know, we managed it, we managed to get to the end, and we did the show, when we opened the show, I have to say, we were worried whether it was going to work or not, but the audiences have really responded warmly to it and we’ve come up with a show that mixes spoken English with Sign Supported English and British Sign Language. It’s not completely accessible to everybody but it celebrates both languages, I hope, serves the play and seems to be pleasing the audiences.'