What is Otterhayes and how does the Drama Group work?
I am Chris Hill and my job is to run weekly creative drama sessions for the Otterhayes Trust. I am a dramatherapist and have a MA in Theatre Practice. Our drama group has established itself as an enthusiastic and collaborative working team and we have undertaken several interesting creative and playful projects over time, of which we are all proud. Our latest project is making a science fiction film which is titled ‘Silverhawk’.
What is the background to Silverhawk Project?
The Silverhawk project has a solid background because we have already experimented with making a film. Our previous project was a 45 minute ‘soap opera’ called ‘The Otter Inn’, based on a pub run by people with learning difficulties and filmed with the group. The project had a minimal budget and made use of very basic film-making equipment. It took around six years and was completed in December 2014. The resulting DVD was well-received, but its lack of technical quality highlighted the need for proper equipment and a more professional approach to the filmic aspect.
The drama group has since decided to make a new film and we have been involved with this new venture for around 18 months now. One person is a keen Star Trek fan and so this latest project involves the drama group creating a short Sci Fi film drama. The end result will be a well presented DVD with the central theme being about spacecraft crew on a journey and the adventures they have on the way.
The group have remained very enthusiastic and, from our start, when they named the ship ‘Silverhawk’, we have been busy creating the stories, rehearsing the narrative, planning our sets, designing our model Silverhawk spacecraft and making props.
We also began to fund raise in order that we would have a more professional approach to our film making efforts. After a year of trying, we eventually we secured a small grant of £422.00 from Awards For All (The National Lottery) in September 2016. This was followed by an award of £5000.00 from the Rix-Thompson- Rothenberg Foundation in December 2016.
These awards immediately produced an improved sense of optimism for everyone and enabled us to properly begin the project. We have been able to invest in this some useful equipment such as a good quality camera, and sound recording equipment. We also have begun to pay our videographer /editor and sets and costume maker. We have also been able to buy necessary items for sets, props and models as well as costumes. At the same time we have begun working through the drama towards its final narrative form and are considering possible external locations for some aspects of the story.
Otterhayes is a not-for-profit company and a Charitable Trust which provides accommodation and support for 21 residents with severe learning difficulties. Its mission statement is to assist in the accommodation and educational, vocational, social and recreational training of people with learning difficulties. It is a progressive and friendly organisation with an investment in providing a range of recreational and arts activities for residents and has good links to the local town and wider community.
What are our aims for this Project?
Our first and main intention is to make a film that is as enjoyable to watch as it will have been to produce, a record of achievement in which the participants can take pride and which can be admired by family and friends.
Through drama, this project will enable our group members to explore challenges that face them in real life: communication, conflict, responses to the unfamiliar, teamwork and collaborative problem solving. The benefits of our approach, first used in ‘The Otter Inn’, proved to be valuable and effective. It became a channel for genuine self-expression in terms of story-telling and emotional intelligence.
It is hoped that the new film will reach a wide audience. In addition to each group member receiving a boxed DVD of the film for themselves, including an illustrated storyboard to remind them and their families of the project, there will be a special film showing to participants, family and friends.
Finally, (subject to the necessary agreements), we would like our film to be shown publicly at a film festival, promoting inclusivity and a better understanding of learning disability.
What other opportunities may arise from this project?
No one in the group can read or write effectively, severely limiting their ability to express themselves intellectually. An effective alternative is expression through the creative arts. The world is increasingly using pictures and film to communicate and so this project will give our group members an opportunity for self- expression and social participation that otherwise they may not have had. This project will enable everyone’s contributions to be valued and recognized. This project aims to involve participants actively at every stage, so they can point at the end result and genuinely say “I did that!”
Because those in our group cannot learn a script in the conventional way, this project employs a different approach, deriving stories from the participants’ own experiences and developing dialogue at their own pace through guided improvisation. With learning-disabled people this is a slow, painstaking process, but the result can be a naturalistic piece of drama where genuine emotions are expressed.
As far as I am aware this approach to drama / film making with people with learning difficulties is entirely unique. Professional interest in the innovative approach of our previous project has already enabled me to present my methods at two conferences, one in the UK and one in Italy, in 2015. I would like to present the findings from this new project to encourage others to try this working model.
This film is all about demonstrating the capabilities of our group members, three of whom have Down’s Syndrome, and two who have severe learning difficulties / autism. The capabilities of people with learning difficulties is relevant in light of the current controversy around the rolling out of a non-invasive screening for Down’s Syndrome and the resulting issues this brings up. (BBC2 Documentary: ‘A World Without Down’s Syndrome?’) The defining phrase for this project is therefore –Capability Not Disability.
How can you best help us?
We are a pivotal point in this exciting project. The more this film develops the more it brings up the question of scale. There is no point in having a skilful videographer / set maker and then skimping on props and all the many other facets of the project. We are therefore seeking further funds to pay for a storyboard artist (pictures are useful if you cannot read), electronics person, musician, four (dramatherapist) actors and also to pay for more props, sets and models. There is a good deal of good will around in support of what we are doing but ultimately people do need to be paid / rewarded for their work.
Everyone in the group benefited hugely from their involvement with the Otter Inn. There are many potential benefits to this new and more collaborative project for the group members and beyond: enhanced self confidence, self esteem and the satisfaction derived from working together to achieve something worthwhile and potentially of benefit to the community as a whole.