Audio: Elizabeth Wainwright on her visually impaired theatre group
Listen to an audio article by Elizabeth Wainwright, an actor, workshop facilitator and director of Engage 2 Stage, a visually impaired theatre group from Bury. Elizabeth created a Festival In My House… And Yours event for MIF titled Playing Through The Looking Glass, the film of which premieres on our YouTube channel tonight. A transcript of this audio article can be found below the audio player.
Elizabeth Wainwright, creator of Playing Through The Looking Glass:
My name is Elizabeth Wainwright. I am an actor, and I am a workshop facilitator. I am a director of Engage 2 Stage, which is a organisation for visually impaired people that runs out of Bury in North Manchester.
I wanted to apply to Festival In My House… and Yours because I was quite excited by what I’d been doing over the summer with a group of visually impaired people. We’d all been in our living rooms, so this really resonated with me, and I thought, wouldn’t it be fabulous if I could connect us as a group with Manchester International Festival and this particular project that they’d got going on. So, I decided to give it a go and see if they’d be interested.
I came up with the concept and the title Playing Through The Looking Glass by having various conversations with the associate artists that helped me run this project.
[Audio from the film plays and a dreamy voice speaks: ‘Welcome to our world beyond the looking glass. “Looking glass” is something we all now know as Zoom. A screen, split into ten rooms containing our participants. Taz guides them through a series of exercises…’. The film audio fades out.]
I wanted to capture the notion of being visually impaired, and I wanted to give a nod to the fact that we were all on Zoom and behind a glass screen, and not together physically. And also, because there’s so much magic with Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass and magic is definitely something I felt we were creating with this group of people.
Playing Through the Looking Glass is a film. It’s a film that captures the day of workshops that a group of visually impaired people spent with myself and three associate artists, who between them looked at playing Shakespeare, or the way Shakespeare wrote for performance.
[Audio from the film plays. Voices speak lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A deep voice says: ‘A thousand twangling instruments’. A softer voice continues: ‘Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices’. Another voice speaks: ‘That, if I then had waked, after long sleep’. The film audio fades out.]
We looked at a workshop that shows us how to develop a character through movement.
[Audio from the film plays. An intense voice speaks a line from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, making their voice buzz like a bee: ‘Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.’ They laugh, and another voice says to them: ‘I think you’re a German bee!’ The film audio fades out.]
And then finally, there was a workshop on clowning.
[Audio from the film plays. An voice speaks: ‘So, you are a shepherd. There is a local theatre in your village, and you’re practicing your line of Shakespeare, but you are also having to steer your sheep.’ The film audio fades out.]
And all of these artists had had a considerable amount of awareness training to make sure that their work was fully accessible, but equally wasn’t watered down for a group of visually impaired people; so they got industry standard workshops and learning, and just had a ball of fun.
Paul Nugent, Playing Through The Looking Glass participant:
My name is Paul Nugent. I’m a retired 67 year old. Drama, for me, has always been a big thing in my life. I did grade eight in drama and really wanted to be an actor at one stage but my sight deteriorated over many years, I’m now completely blind.
The first time I came across Elizabeth Wainwright was when I joined a group of sessions in many different disciplines. I really enjoyed that and Elizabeth contacted me and said that she was giving the one-off session, and I jumped at the chance. And that’s how I got into this one-day session with with Elizabeth and MIF.
I have now decided that I want to be a clown. It’s something that I never imagined that I’d want to be; I’m probably too old for it, but nevertheless I feel that there is a clown within me. And not only that, I decided at the last minute to go to Shakespeare as I didn’t think I’d enjoy it. But actually, in the end, it was the most enjoyable of all the sessions, which has surprised me. So I have learned a lot about myself, and about what actually I’m capable of. And I certainly would love to do more clowning, definitely.
One of the most important things I hope people will gather from [watching] Playing Through The Looking Glass is the fun that we all had during this period, and the integration between the tutors and the pupils. Sighted and visually impaired people came together in such a way that we were all fairly equal in the way we communicated and worked together, which made for a very interesting and fun day.
I’d like for sighted people to come away having giggled, having seen that visually impaired people get together and have incredible fun. And I’d like visually impaired people to watch the film and come away and giggle, and also know that this is possible. This group of people who are visually impaired, and are to some degree isolated already, because of the nature of their impairment, have been isolated even further due to lockdown. But they’ve actually come together to share something of themselves and their lives and their humour and their creativity, and have been taken on a little journey to really express all that. And, yeah, I hope that both visually impaired and sighted people will come away and just look at that as something really wonderful to share.