Vital Xposure packs a punch in Bethnal Green as the former boxing ground of the Kray Twins becomes the home of the new disability-led theatre company Vital Xposure which launched at the weekend. Amardeep Sohi reports.
Members of the board, artists and long-standing supporters of and the company came together at The People’s Show Theatre in bustling Bethnal Green amid food and wine to celebrate and mark the occasion.
Having been granted NPO status (National Portfolio Organisation) by the Arts Council for the next three years, the company will use the space to tap into the creative talents of disabled artists.
Founder and Artistic Director Julie McNamara stated that the company had been set up to “make sure we had a company that embraced people with learning disabilities, people who are mental-health system users or survivors and to bring together, and build bridges across, communities.” At the same time their aim would be “to make sure that excluded voices could be heard.”
Echoing McNamara’s intentions was Executive Producer Steve Mannix who spoke of the long journey embarked on by Julie. Recognising the “special moment”, he emphasised the company’s goal to “create openings for new voices hidden in the margins of society.” Natasha Graham, Chair of the Board, declared Vital Xposure as a “vibrant, innovative and truly dynamic company.”
The performances which followed offered a snapshot into the varied and creative nature of the company. Attendees were treated to a crackling sketch from Liz Carr, whose impersonation of the Queen, complete with hair rollers and cardboard Corgies, sparked a tickling trickle of laughter. Francesca Marie and Shaun Sewell (who will soon be fighting for gold in the Paralympics) performed poetry that struck a very human chord after which musician Lorraine Jordan mesmerized with a spirited and deeply soulful set.
A short, quirky video entitled 'It Should’ve Happened for Crazy Jane' was also shown as a work in progress. Julie McNamara and Liz Carr starred as two musing female hoarders who failed to get into the Paralympics and are now confined to their basement. The production when finished will form part of the company’s inaugural season of work.
Performances and speeches were interjected by the satirical observations of Barbara Lisicki, who cast light on the negative attitudes towards the disabled in the past. Access was also of paramount importance, as the event was both audio described and BSL interpreted. In this regard openness and accessibility were running themes throughout the evening.
Vital Xposure’s work over the next three years will include: the final version of 'It Should’ve Happened for Crazy Jane'; 'The Knitting Circle', a piece based on the testimonies of those who survived the asylums of the not-too-distant past which will tour next spring; and a multi media piece in 2014 by a Canadian artist with learning difficulties.
In addition to artistic productions, the company will also offer three training places to artists with learning difficulties or mental health issues.
When DAO asked Julie about her motivations behind setting up the company, she spoke of her work with the charming barman for the evening, Alan Clifton, who is now the company’s Assistant Stage Manager. Four years ago, he offered to assist Julie as she was packing up her van. With her support, he has held a number of roles and become passionate about theatre.
“Alan was one of the people I wanted to strike out and make a company for,” she said. Her expression as she spoke of Alan was emphatically proud.