This inclusive show was created by Jess Thom, a theatre maker, comedian, Disability Rights Activists and co-founder of Tourettes Hero (UK). Jess, with the NTS team worked in partnership with 8 young people with Additional Support Needs throughout Scotland to create Hacks for the Future.
This 3 hour celebration of diversity could only be described as a masterful example of social engagement. We were invited into an auditorium filled with a variety of stimulating activities. The company opened with a devised piece of theatre. The audience were sitting on the floor and dotted around the auditorium. There was no stage, no separation of cast and audience, we were all part of the spectacle.
Initially a scene was performed centred around “Sam” a character with Tourettes who was having difficulty being accepted in his work due to his uncontrollable verbal outbursts. The performance was light and comedic throughout with the characters, all with varying disabilities, bringing self deprecating humour to their situation. Straight away the freedom of this event was exposed in the form of the company responding to various verbal ticks. Frequent shouts of “Biscuits”, “Sausages” and “F@$k” being picked up by the other members of the company and spun to be part of the show.
It was a shock, therefore, when our young cast suddenly changed tempo. Sam returned from work in a furious rant about not being accepted, about wanting to be “normal” leading to the alienation of his flatmate who couldn’t cope with loud noises, and his other flatmate presenting a moving monologue about living with FM “Do you not think I want to be “normal” too?”. Sam was left alone, bereft after his friends had deserted him. The auditorium went from being full of joyful energy, to silence.
Our narrator then appeared on stage to lift the audience into applause and enter us into a discussion about how things could be different. 10 minutes in without even noticing, we were now engaged as participants in the piece. The cast repeated the scene, but this time the audience had to shout “stop” every time we wanted to make a change. No, we didn’t think Sam should put up with being called names at work, we wanted him to go to the manager. No we didn’t want Sam to shout in front of his flatmate, we wanted him to ask for advice. In a swift turnaround, our input changed the outcome of this situation. Our tolerance, awareness and caution changed an upsetting outcome to a positive one.
This served as our invitation to open our minds to the fact that maybe through tolerance, patience and understanding we have the power to change our future.
We were then invited to join in with activities in the auditorium. A glowing string maze we had to navigate, a sensory herb garden where we could literally “shred” negativity and write ourselves a new future. A design station to create costumes and hats, screened poetry and a filmed message on a loop pleading help for our future. Impromptu musical performances and the gold sequin jacketed “Positivity Guru” connecting with participants to literally share joy.
All the way throughout participants could collect “code”, small cards to be fed into a machine and reshape our future. We were invited to vote for the future we wanted, Prosperous, Connected or Compassionate.
Jess in her vibrant superhero outfit then brought us all together to share our progress in shaping our destiny. She started an impromptu catwalk of people’s designs and drew us all into her world to find out if we had generated enough “Code” to change our future.
The lighting change and thunder told us no, we still had work to do. The solution she explained was to celebrate our individuality through a parade around the whole of Eden Court Theatre. We all had to place our votes for the future we wanted and off we went on our march, complete with music. We ended up outside on the public courtyard in passionate chanting with our energetic leader. She reminded us to dance, to celebrate our individuality. She told us that the future is ours and that we have the power to change it any way we want to. A theatre performance now felt more like an activist protest rally.
We were then led back through the public foyer and into our room to check if we had managed to hack our future. We were drawn in with Jess to push the button and waited in anticipation. By this point we were all entirely focussed on this large silver tube which could determine our future. We were all ready to embrace a new, positive outlook and change the system.
An explosion of confetti and music informed us we had been successful. We danced, we sang we applauded and celebrated.
As I looked around me at the people I had shared this wonderful experience with I felt humbled. There were people in wheelchairs, with walking aids, with learning needs and who knows how many hidden disabilities but for that 3 hours I had not noticed. It caught my breath to remember the moving monologue just a few short hours earlier and remembered how difficult life could be. Looking around at everyone joining in the celebration of our new future, I felt fortunate to be part of this movement.
Since attending I have been left reflecting on what happened. It was a whirlwind of activity, all designed to launch people out of their comfort zone but it all felt so safe, warm and supportive. I did not feel worried about dancing with this group of strangers, I felt excited to connect with a group of people I would never have met before, all of us committed to our new future, a Compassionate one, in case you wondered what we voted for.
This was socially engaged art at it’s best. A celebration of life, of human connections and tolerance. A challenge to the status quo, and an invitation to us all to improve life for the better for everyone around us. This was a one time event, we were the lucky ones, the special few who were part of this magic. We were not observers, we were collaborators. We were not audience, we were activists. We were not just people…we were Superheroes.