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Interview In search of new audiences

MATTHEW HAWKINS speaks with Alice Christina-Corrigan who thinks there are too many revivals of ‘safe’ repertory plays

THE actor/playwright Alice Christina-Corrigan hails from a working-class background and is, as she puts it, “the only art person” in her family.

Like many with such profiles, Alice will have had to explain her arty explorations to kith and kin who are not readily in the know. This takes energy and imagination. It’s a good practice ground. Elucidation itself becomes an area of interest for theatre-makers whose aim is breadth of reach.
Significantly, my interviewee thinks there are too many revivals of “safe” repertory plays and we agree that there are compelling possibilities for generating new audiences by airing new work that is made in new ways.

Christina-Corrigan’s current play Fade has been realised via research and development at The Lowry and devised through experiment hosted by Theatre Deli in Sheffield, where theatrical elements of sound, visual language, movement, and script became separately examined and synthesised anew.

This matters especially to Alice who, identifying as visually impaired and neuro-diverse, has empirical knowledge to air and explore. She already intuited how a simplified setting and a lighting plan for colour saturation (emotional indicators) at key moments function to help an extended range of people to connect with a play.

Fade’s collaborative team surely benefitted from exposure to this knowledge, in an arena where their collective input has held sway.

Embarking on a drama course at university at Liverpool’s John Moores University, Alice kept quiet about her visual impairment, thinking it would be perceived as a defect. Her initial reticence placed her outside the provision of pre-emptive procedures. She grappled with problematic factors, albeit a phase of acting successes ensued.

Later, at Manchester’s Academy of Live and Recorded Art (ALRA) her choice to write an MA thesis that analysed inclusive procedures and possibilities brought matters out into the open and indicated templates for action — applicable now in her work as a creative access director.

Christina-Corrigan laments the 2022 closure of ALRA and becomes exasperated in consideration of concurrent paucities, hurdles, and hoops. More than once she frames her current achievement as privilege.

I amuse her with my own perspective: surviving institutions and production houses do actually require the enrolment and energetic input of people like herself. Opportunities may seem like gracious bounty but are surely earned (if not earmarked) making sense of an infrastructure’s existence. That’s not to say that the realisation of a complex project should not trigger exuberance — just that words like “honour” and “privilege” do jump out at me, as indicators of powers-that-be.

My bit of pedantry took us to acknowledgement of differing landscapes: early career artists are now playing for high stakes, whereas my generation took contractual engagement as our due.

Meanwhile, there are inspiring examples of a theatre of visibility for disabled performers and a number of pioneering troupes have developed to foster this.

With such icons in mind, I ask Alice about how difference registers lately in her staged outcomes. She replies elliptically, citing the subtleties of a shifting sensory environment and the evidence of breath.

She then switches our conversation’s emphasis. I learn how 90 per cent of Fade’s production and promotional team identify as disabled or neurodivergent and I begin to form a picture of this young writer wishing to go her own way creatively, with divergence embedded in the DNA of a production but not brazen in the stage action/narrative she conjures.

There’s a freedom and a sophistication in this — as if a critical mass of diverse perception comes to oscillate on its own productive frequency. Maybe integrations are at their fullest where fanfare is absent. Maybe an idiosyncratic new theatrical form is not universally desirable. I venture how the Salford/Sheffield/Leeds axis of this project plays its part. These are not esoteric spots. The cultural history of England’s north is bound up with energetic practicality and cogent production.

Until April 27 2024 at Leeds Playhouse. Box office



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