The Forest Of Forgotten Discos! 🎄🎄🎄
DIVA chat to playwright Jackie Hagan about making theatre accessible for all this Christmas
There is a mystery in the forest – everyone has forgotten about dancing and bright lights and disco. Even Alexa – the virtual assistant from the Amazon Rainforest – can’t tell us why. Meet Bear Hug, a creaky bear with a secret. Bear Minimum has a higgledy piggledy bedroom she can’t keep clean. Bear Grills just can’t keep his head cool. Until one day, Red (who is nine years old and scared of nothing!) explodes on to the scene, changing the bears’ lives forever.
A play commissioned by Contact Manchester and written by Jackie Hagan, The Forest Of Forgotten Discos! is a new and exciting festive show for children of all ages – no matter what their families look like.
Here, DIVA spoke to Jackie Hagan about where the idea came from and how she's working to make theatre accessible to kids from all kinds of backgrounds (big kids too!)
DIVA: Where did the idea for The Forest Of Forgotten Discos! come from?
JACKIE HAGAN: I grew up on a council estate next to some woods. I was a dead dramatic kid and was always saying I was going to run away there. I thought it'd be really magical with all sorts of animals. It wasn't, it was full of empty crisp packets and shopping trolleys. The Forest Of Forgotten Discos! is that same forest as I imagined it to be when I was nine.
What's the story in a nutshell?
Red is nine years old. She can do beat boxing and sign language. She's run away to the forest where she meets Alexa, a computer generated know-it-all who is a bit shifty.
There used to be loads of discos in the forest and Red really wants to go to one – she's been through a hard time lately – but in order to do that, she must meet a number of bears who have their own agendas.
Underneath all of the fun, parping and dancing, it's about accepting everyone as they are and celebrating difference.
That's sounds wild. Do you have a favourite one-liner from the play?
"Always respect a bear in a tabard..."
Who is The Forest Of Forgotten Discos! for?
It's suitable for ages five and up. It's really daft and visual and simple for the little'uns and then there's loads of layers for different ages – there's shed loads in there for older kids and adults too. I'm going to say it's a bit like Adventure Time or We Bare Bears in that respect, but with the addition of northern humour. [Even better – DIVA]
The show is an inclusive one, how so? Why was this important to you?
It's important to me because that's how the world should be. Imagine if you had a kid who got left out at Christmas? That sucks, no one should be left out. I like to make theatre with access at the core of the show. It's not about tacking a ramp on at the end – restrictions should push you to be more creative.
Can you tell us a little more about what Creative Access means?
Creative Access means that you make a show where you try to meet access requirements in such a way that is not separate from a non-disabled experience of the show – it's built in. For example, Red, the main character, knows sign language because she's got a deaf mate in school, so when she meets a deaf bear it's no big deal.
The signing happens naturally throughout the show. (One of the bears "parps" a lot too, and so we've made it so that deaf people can tell when she is parping using funny visual gags and lights!) We also have a ramp built into the forest, we're trying to integrate AVD so that people with visual impairments don't get pushed out from the story. We'll also be having some relaxed performances, making it so that there are no sudden bangs and no strobing.
Plus, there'll be different seating areas in the audience so you can sit in the middle of the action if you wish or in a more relaxed, further away part of the audience.
What can others working in theatre and performance do to make their shows more accessible?
You can never get it perfect – it's a learning process – but my mantra is that if you expect that everyone will want to come, make it so that they can. Lastly, accessible shows aren't just for disabled people. We're not a separate species from each other! We should all be able to go to the same things together.
Tell us a little about how you became a playwright?
I was originally on course to be an academic but life happened and I had a breakdown and ended up in a psychiatric ward. They honestly do make you do stuff like basket weaving and one of the activities was creative writing. I was also a performance poet and stand up comedian for years.
The first commission I got was for a solo show in 2013, a couple of weeks later I was in hospital with a mystery illness and came out five months later with one less leg and a scary diagnosis!
That is scary... How did you recover from that?
Fortunately, hospital was really boring and so I'd written an amputation comedy play called Some People Have Too Many Legs, which I toured once I was out. Then Graeae Theatre, who are experts in disability arts, picked me up and I did a play called Cosmic Scallies and I've made shows ever since.
I was also lucky enough to win the Jerwood Poetry Prize last year which meant I had money to do what I wanted, so I did a lot of work with class and disability. It's still crackers to me that I get paid for doing what I would do anyway...
The Forest of Forgotten Discos! written by Jackie Hagan and presented by Contact Theatre opens at Hope Mill Theatre on 11 December 2018 and runs until the 23 December 2018. Each performance is accessible to D/deaf audience members through the use of creative sign, involving the use of sign language, and visual storytelling used throughout.
For more visit contactmcr.com.
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