An international theatre company based in Newcastle, Greyscale Theatre Company create reimagined classics and bold new writing. Over the last few years led by artistic director Selma Dimitrijevic, they have also been finding ways to connect with D/deaf and disabled artists and have proudly celebrated the work of these artists in their delivery of RTYDS Introduction to Directing project.
Prior to partnering with RTYDS over the past few years, Selma had made connections with both individual artists and organisations through leading workshops, working with Graeae Theatre Company on a mentoring programme, holding a masterclass with Caroline Parker, and also a BSL course led by Becoming Visible (a Deaf led company) in Newcastle. The artists who participated in these activities expressed a desire to learn more about the role and career of a director and, having partnered with RTYDS on a Three-Month Placement with Director Rebekah Bowsher in 2017, Selma applied to run a RTYDS Introduction to Directing project.
‘Looking back at it now, our first application to RTYDS was fairly naïve, although we weren’t really aware of it at the time. We wanted to work with more D/deaf and disabled artists, but we didn’t really know how. The first conversation with RTYDS after they rejected of our application was refreshingly direct and honest. They basically said: we see you have good intentions, but you don’t really know what you are doing in this particular area, do you? And they were right. Six years later they have supported us to re-think our approaches, develop our contacts and helped us support over 20 D/deaf and disabled emerging directors in the North East’ – Selma Dimitrijevic
In conversation with RTYDS, Selma revisited the structure of the sessions and also her plans to contact D/deaf and disabled artists in the region. In order to boost recruitment and answer some key questions about the project, Greyscale created an accessible video using BSL and captioning, featuring the deaf actress Sophie Stone. The video was shared on social media and by a network of contacts, including Becoming Visible, Unlimited, regional theatre companies, theatre makers, and activists working in disability arts. Greyscale also approached the local D/deaf centre, where they were able to display posters promoting the project – thus enabling news of the project to reach a wider range of artists.
RTYDS Introduction to Directing was delivered over the course of 16 half-day sessions and included two group trips to Northern Stage, where the nine participants were able to see Pink Sari Revolution directed by Suba Das, and Great Odds, directed by Esther McAuley.
Alongside Selma, six visiting directors were specifically chosen to deliver dynamic workshops to the group. These directors included: Esther McAuley of Mac’s Arcadian, Annie Rigby artistic director of Unfolding Theatre, Elayce Ismail, RTYDS associate director with Northern Stage at the time, Vici Wreford-Sinnott, artistic director of Little Cog and agent for change at ARC Stockton; freelance director Jake Smith, and Ali Pritchard artistic director of Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle.
Selma creatively facilitated the course and also ran workshops sessions, including: how to develop your own practice; how to find collaborators, how to approach new writing, and how to work with actors. The project culminated in an opportunity to work directly with professional actors.
When Selma and the company reflected on running the project, there were a number of practical learning points for both Selma and Greyscale. They learnt better ways to support a group with varied access needs. These included:
● The need to provide two BSL interpreters per session to ensure both the participants and the interpreters have the best experience. Interpreting can be demanding, and breaks need to be scheduled in. The interpreters need to cover the sessions but also the breaks, so the participants have full involvement. This can only be fully achieved with two interpreters
● It is important to respond to the communication needs of all participants. Some participants did not have English as their first language and therefore email correspondence needed adapting, for example, using plain English and clearer and cleaner formatting
● The need to provide trigger warnings for topics that might be discussed or themes which might come up in the various workshops and texts used throughout the course
The programme was designed not only to give participants the opportunity to expand their knowledge – everything from finding collaborators and working with actors to different directing styles – but also to provide a strong network that would help support the next stage of their development.
The most valuable aspect of the project included having the opportunity to work with actors in a supported environment and to try new approaches, learning from a range of artists with different practices, being able to acknowledge invisible disability in a safe space and to explore how this informs making work, and adapting existing skills.
From taking part the directors felt they now had a strong relationship with Greyscale and they felt much better supported. It is important that as part of RTYDS Introduction to Directing that there is an ongoing commitment from the company. Post the project the directors are able to:
● Receive advice on funding applications
● Attend future open rehearsals and workshops
● Get advice about setting up a company or finding collaborators regionally and nationally.
● Find out about R&D and commission opportunities through Greyscale’s national network
● Have access to potential employment on future projects with Greyscale and their partner companies
● Continue connections with seven directors they met through the workshops
● Call upon the network of makers they met during this project for peer to peer support in order to help each other in developing new work and sharing ideas.
Selma also identified the benefits to the company in meeting and getting to know a talented and inspiring group of new and emerging directors in the region. They now have a wider and more diverse network of creatives to recommend to other companies and venues. It was very important that they increased their understanding of the barriers faced by D/deaf and disabled freelance artists and how they can work to make their practice more inclusive and accessible.
A number of the participants who took part in the RTYDS Introduction to Directing have gone on to work with the company. Selma directed sean burns’ play joey, a New Wolsey Theatre, testing ground production in association with Greyscale that toured across the north east. Sarah Gonnet also assisted on both the R&D and then the show of joey and is now associate artist with Greyscale and is represented by the agency, Curtis Brown.