Glasgow theatre company wants more disabled actors cast in disabled roles

Company hopes to encourage more inclusion and accessibility within the entertainment industry in Scotland and across the UK.

A Glasgow-based disability-led theatre company would like to see more disabled actors being cast for disabled roles as well as more accessibility within the arts.

Birds of Paradise (BOP) works with both disabled and non-disabled artists while creatively including subtitles, BSL interpretation and audio description into their productions.

The company, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, is hoping to continue its work to encourage more inclusion and accessibility within the entertainments industry in Scotland and across the UK.

Over the last month, the cast has been touring their latest production ‘Don’t Make Tea’, a dark comedy that follows a woman during a visit from an assessor after she’s forced to claim benefits due to her deteriorating mobility and eyesight.

Artistic director Robert Softley Gale, who has cerebral palsy, said: “We work with disabled and non-disabled actors and writing creatives in creating theatre that tells the stories of disabled people in new ways.

Birds of Paradise Artistic Director, Robert Softley Gale.STV News

“Part of the problem is that disabled people are not really part of the culture in Scotland. You don’t see a lot of stories about disabled people so our job is to put these stories out there so that the lives of disabled people become less mysterious and more familiar.”

Gillian Dean plays the main character Chris in the play ‘Don’t Make Tea’ who has sight loss and deteriorating mobility.

Like Chris, Gillian also has sight loss and says she has a lived experiences of some of the struggles she portrays in the play.

“I personally think it’s very important that disabled actors play disabled roles,” Gillian said.

Gillian Dean who plays Chris in Don't Make Tea. STV News

“There’s really not that many disabled people in the entertainments industry and it is therefore very frustrating when you see – if a disabled role comes up – that role being taken by an able-bodied actor means that’s yet another disabled person that’s not been allowed into the industry.”

All performances are captioned and have creatively embedded BSL interpretation and audio description into the script.

In ‘Don’t Make Tea’, a virtual assistant, called Able, speaks to Chris through audio commands while also cleverly providing audio descriptions for the audience and is voiced in real time by actor Richard Conlon.

Richard said: “It (audio description) is fully integrated and it was always part of that script but I think Rob always found it quite difficult to kind of make it organic so that’s why this pod has been created.

“As a non-disabled person, it’s something that I overlook quite often but when you’re working with Birds of Paradise you just realise this is so important.

BSL, subtitles and audio description is creatively embedded into the production. Birds of Paradise

“So I think it’s very very important in this day and age that this is recognised and more work like this is done throughout other theatre companies as well.”

Robert added that he would like to see more theatre companies working to make the acts accessible to all.

He said: “All theatres wants to increase their audiences and it’s the job of every company to look at how they could make their work more accessible in ways that are exciting and interesting to the audience.

“We work quite often with other companies to support them to do that themselves and we love doing that because the more that we can make theatre as a whole accessible the better for everyone.”

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