Skip to main content

Birds of Paradise - A New Team


When Birds of Paradise announced their new artistic team in October of this year, it came after a heady year for disability and mixed ability initiatives. The London Paralympics had caught the nation's imagination over the summer more than ever before, while Birds of Paradise's appointment of a three-way team of two joint artistic directors and a creative producer suggested that team-work was even more important in what looks like a major leap forward for the company. The fact that Shona Rattray, Robert Softley Gale and Garry Robson already had a significant track record on projects with Bird of Paradise, as well as the disability arts sector, also meant that they'd effectively come through the company boot room, and were already au fait with what it's about.

“One of the nice things is that we already do know each other,” say Rattray, “so we can talk about ideas we've got straight away.”

“We worked out last night that it was ten years ago this week that the three of us first worked together,” Softley Gale points out on the triumvirate's second official day in post. “So now we don't have to dance round each other and found out what one another are about. It's more of a continuum.”

Lest anyone think the trio's appointment was a calculated coup d'etat, each new member of staff actually applied for the artistic director's job separately, and it was the company's board who proposed that they work together. While such a move is in keeping with previous successful partnerships at Dundee Rep and other places, for a relatively small-scale operation like Birds of Paradise, it is a singularly radical move.

“It was pitched to us as a new beginning, and we were very much given a clean slate,” says Robson. “We met a few times before we started, just to see if it could work, but it was too good an opportunity to miss, so it was a really a no-brainer.”

Softley Gale concurs.

“We've all got strengths that are quite different,” he says, “so rather than having to pick oner of us, why not try to bring all those together. I think we've all got different ideas, but we all share the same vision.”

“That made it an exciting prospect for moving the company forward,” Rattray agrees.

“It became quite a buzz,” says Robson. “I think the prospect of collaborations like this are definitely the way forward.”

Robson and Gale are both high-profile figures as performers, directors and writers, both in the disabled theatre scene and with mainstream companies. For Birds of Paradise, Robson wrote and directed The Irish Giant in 2003, and penned the most recent BoP show, The Man Who Lived Twice. He appeared in Theatre Workshop's production of Endgame, and up until recently ran Fittings Multi-Media company in Liverpool. At Oran Mor, Robson wrote Raspberry, a musical play inspired by singer and fellow polio sufferer, Ian Dury, and appeared in another, Reasons To Be Cheerful, with the Graeae company.

Softley Gale's first appearance with Birds of Paradise was acting in The Irish Giant. This came after a period when he too appeared in several Theatre Workshop productions, while Softley Gale has also appeared with Fittings. In 2005, Softley Gale became Birds of Paradise's Agent For Change, a project designed to investigate the under-representation of disabled performers in Scottish theatre. Softley Gale later became Equalities Officer for Arts and Disabilities with the old Scottish Arts Council, and more recently performed in his own show, Girl X, for the National Theatre of Scotland. Robson was a panel member for Unlimited, the disability arts commission fund set up by London 2012 and each of the four nations funding agencies for the Cultural Olympiad. These included works enabled by Softley Gale's assorted roles.

Rattray has worked with a stream of Scottish theatre companies including 7:84 Scotland and Suspect Culture, and has been BoP company manager since 2005. The upgrading of her role to Creative Producer is a logical progression following her work in contracting mainstream artists to work for the company as well as ensuring a two-way traffic by taking disability arts into the mainstream.

Birds of Paradise were formed by a group of disabled and non-disabled activists who worked on a community theatre project run by cultural social enterprise body, Fablevision, in 1990. BoP's first production came a year later, and, by 1993, had become Scotland's first inclusive touring theatre company. Since then, there have been numerous productions, including a collaboration with 7:84 Scotland on a production of Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin's dramatic tone poem, Tongues, while Alasdair Gray wrote a new piece, Working Legs, for the company, and Robson directed his own play, The Irish Giant.

More recently, BoP produced Davey Anderson's play, Clutter Keeps Company, and toured Brecht's Mother Courage and her Children, featuring Alison Peebles in the title role. Peebles went on to direct The Man Who Lived Twice.

The first fruits from the revitalised Birds of Paradise will be In An Alien Landscape, a new play by Danny Start, who began as writer in residence with BoP in 2010. Start's play is based on a true story about a man who emerged from a coma who was possessed with an urge to paint non-stop. Beyond this, BoP have plans for everything from a politically incorrect comedy to a country and western musical. There are also ambitions not just to be on equal footing with other Scottish companies, but to work internationally.

“Things have changed so much in the last few years in disability arts,” Softley Gale points out, “but II think the litmus for us will be when people start talking about us in the same way as other touring theatre companies. If they still see us as being ghettoised then we won't have been doing our jobs properly.”

In An Alien Landscape opens at The Beacon, Greenock on February 1st, and tours Scotland until February 26th.

ends

Birds of Paradise – Three of the Best

1997 – Tongues – Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin's dramatic poem was written when Chaikin suffered a stroke which left him with aphasia. This set new challenges for Birds of Paradise's collaboration with 7:84 Scotland.

1998 – Working Legs – An all too rare foray into drama from Alasdair Gray, a tragi-comedy designed to be performed by people without the limbs of the title.

2003 – The Irish Giant _ Garry Robson wrote and directed this play about Charles Byrne, the 7 foot 7 inch eighteenth century sideshow attraction, who died aged just twenty-two.

ends

The Herald, December 11th 2012

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Honourable K.W. Harman: Ltd Ink Corporation

31 Bath Road, Leith Docks, March 17th-20th

In a monumental shipping container down by Leith Docks, a Sex Pistols tribute band is playing Anarchy in the U.K.. on a stage set up in the middle of the room. Either side, various constructions have been built in such a way so viewers can window shop as they promenade from one end of the room to the next, with the holy grail of a bar at either end.

Inbetween, there’s a confession booth and a mock-up of a private detective’s office with assorted documentation of real-life surveillance pinned to the walls. Two people seem to be having a conversation in public as if they're on a chat show. An assault course of smashed windows are perched on the floor like collateral damage of post-chucking out time target practice. A display of distinctively lettered signs originally created by a homeless man in search of a bed for the night are clumped together on placards that seem to be marking out territory or else finding comfort in being together. Opp…

The Maids

Dundee Rep

Two sisters sit in glass cases either side of the stage at the start of Eve Jamieson's production of Jean Genet's nasty little study of warped aspiration and abuse of power. Bathed in red light, the women look like artefacts in some cheap thrill waxworks horror-show, or else exhibits in a human zoo. Either way, they are both trapped, immortalised in a freak-show possibly of their own making.

Once the sisters come to life and drape themselves in the sumptuous bedroom of their absent mistress, they raid her bulging wardrobe to try on otherwise untouchable glad-rags and jewellery. As they do, the grotesque parody of the high-life they aspire to turns uglier by the second. When the Mistress returns, as played with daring abandon by Emily Winter as a glamour-chasing narcissist who gets her kicks from drooling over the criminal classes, you can't really blame the sisters for their fantasy of killing her.

Slabs of sound slice the air to punctuate each scene of Mart…

Scot:Lands 2017

Edinburgh's Hogmanay
Four stars

A sense of place is everything in Scot:Lands. Half the experience of Edinburgh's Hogmanay's now annual tour of the country's diverse array of cultures seen over nine bespoke stages in one global village is the physical journey itself. Scot:Lands too is about how that sense of place interacts with the people who are inspired inspired by that place.

So it was in Nether:Land, where you could see the day in at the Scottish Storytelling Centre with a mixed bag of traditional storytellers and contemporary performance poets such as Jenny Lindsay. The queues beside the Centre's cafe were further enlivened by the gentlest of ceilidhs was ushered in by Mairi Campbell and her band.

For Wig:Land, the grandiloquence of the little seen Signet Library in Parliament Square was transformed into a mini version of the Wigtown Book Festival. While upstairs provided a pop-up performance space where writers including Jessica Fox and Debi Gliori read eithe…