Disability and the Arts in Plymouth
By Christopher Burns
Christopher Burns is a passionate supporter of arts and disability inclusion in Plymouth. Christopher helps to run Funky Llama Festival (a large-scale event on the Hoe) and club nights where culture, disabilities and the arts are all celebrated.
Today l have been to TR2 (the Theatre Royal’s production and learning centre) to pick up some more Funky Llama Club Night flyers. In October 2015 there will be another Club night and this time it is going to be held at Varsity Plymouth (and there’s still some tickets left – visit our website for more details). Despite my presence being one of the most familiar faces at the theatre, my involvement in arts and culture in Plymouth didn’t start with the Funky Llama project or indeed TR2. It really started at Plymouth College of Art (known back then as PCAD) where l studied photography and a bit of art. At that time disability wasn’t seen very much at the college (or it didn’t seem that way). Now though, and at the last time l studied there a couple of years ago, disability was seen at the college.
The Mac which l was given in 2001 is still going strong and has been a loyal servant for my volunteering at Theatre Royal Plymouth and in recent months Plymouth Music Zone. It proves that technology can play a vital role in role in allowing someone with a disability to access arts and culture and remove some of the barriers that exist. Even though l has always been classed as having special needs, I wasn’t told l had Autism until I was 32. And yes, life and disability can be challenging and people tend to be a lifesaver. And this where theatre can improve lives massively.
Funky Llama Club Night (image by Fiona Walsh)
Project X – War Torn performance (image by Fiona Walsh)
My first theatre and acting experience was with Our Space and the character l played was a dead body who had a scene where he talked solo to the audience. Since that time l have been involved in two of the three most successful Our Space productions (The Edge and War Torn) – my involvement with them was basically helping back stage and doing the publicity. In the case of The Edge I visited a mental health forum in Redruth and l knew straight after visiting it how important the production was going to be. With War Torn l collected and sourced the images for the projection and ran the lighting and slide show for the two performances (with a bit of help from a Theatre Royal Plymouth colleague).
Our Space was in many ways only the start of my connection with the theatre and eventually my current involvement at Plymouth Music Zone. In 2013 l was asked to take part in the Funky Llama Project, which the Theatre Royal Plymouth had managed to get funding for. Many miles, Club Nights and Festivals later, l’m still there. Stand-out moments with the project has been plentiful and probably everyone who has attended our events or taken part in them has different moments to share (this is one of the many beautiful aspects of the project). I have three stand-out moments which l was luckily enough to have a hand in. The first is brining the documentary film ‘Mission to Lars’ to the llama stage (another great Devon success story). The second is helping to get Kyle Coleman to perform for us. Kyle has repeatedly stunned audiences with his incredible talent. The third is having a contribution in getting the Straight Jacket Legends to perform for us. The band performed brilliantly at the Funky Llama Festival 2015.
Straight Jacket Legends performing at the Funky Llama Festival
Our Space (image credit Charlie Fripp)
Another element to the Funky Llama Project is it’s partners – Plymouth Music Zone is one of them. I have taken part in a couple of music sessions and currently volunteer at a PMZ’s singing group for stroke survivors. The group tends to create loads of laugher and the people who l spend a hour singing with are lovely. All of these activities has only been possible through help and support and for the past 3 years by a personal budget (which you tend to have fight very hard to keep).
There is positive change happening in Plymouth regarding arts and culture (even if in other areas of disability this isn’t the case). It is crucial that people with disabilities are helped and supported to be included in Plymouth’s culture scene and growing industry, and this includes on an individual level.