We are all equally enthralled by the incredible athletic feats of para-athletes and athletes in the sporting arena, so why should the arts be any different?
Inspired by her recent work singing with the British Paraorchestra (The Nature of Why and Kraftwerk: Re-werk), Joanne Roughton-Arnold founded formidAbility out of a passionate belief that opera can reach so many more people if we better reflect the diversity of our audiences and find a new, creative approach to accessibility. We are putting accessibility front and centre, using it to reflect the emotion, energy and ethos of our production and open this extraordinary art form for everyone, rather than tacking it onto the edges after all the artistic work has been done. Our new opera company is a healthy mix of disabled and non-disabled professional artists creating work of the highest calibre.
Hotspur | Pierrot Lunaire for the 2019 Grimeborn Festival
29th August and 1st September 2019
Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, London, E8 3DL
This is formidAbility’s first production, taking place in a major Off West End festival and allowing us to introduce our work to the industry, the disabled community and the wider public.
We are pairing two works from opposite ends of the 20th century for voice and five instrumentalists, that lend themselves to creative staging and are linked thematically by the moon. Through the integration of Signdance with opera, we will capture the intense energy and emotion of the art form in a way that both makes it accessible for deaf people and enhances the experience of hearing audience members.
Hotspur tells the story of the 14th century Northumbrian hero, Henry Percy, through his wife’s eyes. Singer and signing dancer (Isolte Avila) together represent Elizabeth’s public and private faces as she lives through her husband’s final days, dreading the dark tide that threatens to engulf them. In Pierrot Lunaire, David Bower (who played David in Four Weddings and a Funeral) will play the wandering, moonstruck clown, interacting with singer and instrumentalists, and using Signdance to express the text.
We will make our work accessible to visually impaired audience members through touch tours and the Rationale Method of audio description, created as a direct response to visually impaired people, who felt that the current provision for audio description needed to be more engaging and exciting. The technique fully embeds audio description from a production’s inception, allowing a high standard of accessibility to be fully integrated into each performance.
We will engage with people new to opera, especially within the disabled community. There is a perception among deaf people that opera is inaccessible to them, but through the integration of Signdance we hope to show that the strong emotions expressed in opera can be universally felt, regardless of disability.
Grimeborn audiences will experience extraordinary music, drama, dance and visual art. They will be up close to the artists in the intimate and welcoming Arcola Theatre. Open rehearsals with audience Q&A in High Wycombe will allow the public to observe and engage with the artists, benefitting the local community and Wycombe Arts Centre.
We will create work of the highest artistic quality and challenge perceptions of disability in the arts through our creative approach to accessibility and our own status as exceptional artists who happen to have disabilities. Joanne Roughton-Arnold (soprano) is visually impaired, Isolte Avila (dancer) is physically disabled and David Bower (co-choreographer / dancer) is deaf. We find creative ways to overcome any potential barriers, keeping the audience focused on the story unfolding before them.
Research and Development
We held a one-week research and development workshop in March 2019 at the Wycombe Arts Centre, supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. We wanted to investigate whether Signdance and opera could enhance each other. We learned that by making our work more accessible to deaf people, the experience was enhanced for all performers and audience regardless of disability (known in accessibility circles as the “kerb-cut effect”). All artists and audience members found that the added dimension of Signdance opened Whitehead’s and Schönberg’s complex musical worlds to them in unexpected ways. Feedback comments included:
"Brilliant, a revelation"
"Loved it, can't wait to see / hear / feel the final performance"
"Not only will the collaboration provide accessibility for deaf people, it will enhance the opportunity for a hearing audience to appreciate the performance too: an amazing feat"
Following the creation of the production and initial performances at the Arcola Theatre, our next project will be to tour the production outside London. Research and Development at Wycombe Arts Centre has already led to an invitation to perform there. Over time, we intend to expand formidAbility’s work into future productions, increase the number of artists, apply our approach to other repertoire, commission new work, undertake future collaboration with Signdance Collective International, Rationale Method and other like-minded companies, and share our practice with the wider profession.
Sara is a freelance director and choreographer whose work spans opera, theatre, dance, musical theatre and interdisciplinary productions. She has directed the opera premieres of The Bone Feeder (Auckland Arts Festival and New Zealand Opera), Hohepa (New Zealand Opera and NZ Arts Festival), Fatal Desire (Asia Pacific Arts Festival), and Iris Dreaming (Grimeborn Festival) by Gillian Whitehead, Fleur Adcock, sung and produced by Joanne Roughton-Arnold. Opera in New Zealand includes: Nixon in China (Auckland Arts Festival), Die Zauberflöte, Don Giovanni (New Zealand Opera), Ainadamar New Zealand Arts Festival), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (NZ School of Music). She is a NZ Arts Foundation Laureate.
Scott was Fellow in Conducting and Artist in Residence at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The foundations of his musicianship were formed through his study of the pedagogical traditions of Ilya Musin and Nadia Boulanger under the mentorship of his principal teachers Sian Edwards and Norman Beedie. He has studied with Maestro Kurt Masur in Sweden, Gianluigi Gelmetti in Italy, and Ed Spanjaard in Hungary. In 2018 he was Assistant Conductor to Lionel Friend for British Youth Opera.
He teaches conducting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama Junior Department, and has been a guest teacher at the Royal College of Music, the Guildhall School of Music, Trinity College of Music Junior Department and the Aldeburgh Young Musicians Programme. He has led workshops for the Southbank Centre, Barbican Centre, and Glyndebourne Festival Opera.
David Bower (deaf) is Artistic Director/Actor with Signdance Collective International, and is instrumental in SDCI's work. He starred in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral in the role of David. He has recently completed two short films and a pilot for the Four Weddings and a Funeral television programme.
He studied the newly created art form of Signdance as an apprentice performer at Common Ground Sign Dance theatre from 1989. He tours extensively, performing at major street theatre festivals and theatre festivals worldwide. His films have been screened across the globe at festivals and events, including Rapid Intervention at the Cannes Film Festival. Radio work includes Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (a collaboration with BBC Radio 4 and Graeae Theatre Company). He has been creating, collaborating and touring Carthage / Cartagena by Caridad Svich internationally, The Turtle Trials supported by The Arts Council Of Wales and In Between Spaces directed by Ozan Gokmen at Bornova Municipal Theatre all receiving excellent reviews.
A lyric coloratura soprano with a flair for contemporary music, Joanne emigrated from New Zealand to the UK to pursue a career as a violinist. She began her vocal studies while a postgraduate violinist at Trinity College of Music, after realising that her visual impairment was too great a hurdle for a career as a string player. She went on to become a prize-winning vocal student at Birmingham Conservatoire, then undertook further study with Nelly Miricioiu.
She commissioned Iris Dreaming in 2015 from Dame Gillian Whitehead and Fleur Adcock CNZM OBE, then performed and produced the world premiere at the 2016 Grimeborn Festival, supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, the NZ Society, NZ Studies Network and the Richard Thomas Foundation. She gave the New Zealand premiere at the 2017 Adam Chamber Music Festival, later broadcast by Radio NZ.
Other world premieres include The Nature of Why and Kraftwerk: Re-werk with the British Paraorchestra under Charles Hazlewood, and Lisa Illean’s Artificial Night with the Octandre Ensemble. In 2015 she gave her first performance in research and development at the Royal Opera House in the virtuosic role of Semele in Roberto David Rusconi’s new opera, Dionysos.
She is a panelist for the Elizabeth Eagle Bott Memorial Fund, supporting other visually impaired musicians.
Isolte is a physically disabled performer and the Project Assistant Producer at Signdance Collective International. Born in Cuba, Isolte trained with the Cuban ballet and members of the Alvyn Ailey Dance Company. She has a degree in dance from California Institute of the Arts as a Disney Scholar. She is the founder of the art form, Signdance Theatre and original pioneer of Signdance, created in 1987. In 2001 Isolte formed Signdance Collective International with actor, David Bower. She has worked most notably with choreographers Loyd Newson, Milton Myers, Alvin Ailey, Ismael Ivo, Carlos Orta & Ornella D’Agostino. She is an associate artist at BBC Radio 4. In 2018 she created, collaborated on and toured Carthage / Cartagena by Caridad Svich, The Turtle Trials supported by The Arts Council Of Wales, and In Between Spaces directed by Ozan Gokmen of Bornova Municipal Theatre.
Funding so far...
Our overall budget is £65,500 of which we have already raised £39,000.
We are being supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, by private trusts and foundations, and through generous support in kind.
Creating a high quality production involving international artists at the top of their game is expensive, and adding the creative accessible elements that are at the heart of what we do increases our budget further.
You can help us to break down barriers to participation in the arts, open this extraordinary art form to new audiences, and share our practice with the wider profession. We are determined to ensure that our production takes place this year, and contribute to the tangible, positive shift in attitude towards professional disabled artists integrating with the mainstream.
Thank you for your support. We hope to see you at the Arcola Theatre this summer!