Learning Disability Awareness Week and 30 Years of Mind the Gap

“…..fiercely proud of being a theatre company”

                                                    –  Julia Skelton, Executive Director, Mind the Gap

Julia Skelton. Photograph by Les Parkinson.

Yorkshire’s own Mind the Gap, Europe’s leading learning disability theatre company, celebrates its 30th birthday this week, right in the middle of Learning Disability Awareness Week, and there’s a busy year ahead to look forward to.

Mind the Gap will use the coming 12 months to challenge what is currently a lack of work for disabled artists.  They will tour acclaimed productions and create new work.  This will include a large-scale, outdoor event.

Julie Skelton is obviously passionate and driven in her cause, warning against any degree of complacency in the light of the recent Britain’s Got Talent success: “We have championed learning disability arts for 30 years – we have a theatre company and an academy, each with exceptional facilities; we have worked alongside other arts venues to help create more opportunities for both LD audiences and artists,”

Julia wants Mind the Gap to help give more voice to the 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK. “We work with learning disabled artists………..    MTG’s work is about collaboration – we don’t tell our artists what to say or how to say it. Our work is created by them,” continues Julia.  “We want to see LD Arts respected and heard – at conferences, events and in other people’s productions.”

Independent commissions have come the way of several Mind the Gap artists:

Jez Colborne, a highly skilled musician, composer and singer, created a piece for the 2012 Paralympic Games Celebrations

 Zara Mallinson is currently working on a piece with local writer, Emma Adams

 JoAnne Haines had a part in BBC1’s Doctors

 Alan Clay has received funding to develop his music project Skip Rap

and Liam Bairstow is a regular of Coronation Street, where he plays Alex Warner.  He had this to say about having a disability:   “It’s not a bad thing – it’s a good thing because you get to know people inside. I’m very proud to inspire and represent people through my role on Coronation Street and my work with Mind the Gap.”

Later this month Liam will join judging panel of Leeds Young Talent, a talent show for young people with a learning disability, hosted by People In Action.   Lee Ridley, aka Lost Voice Guy and winner of BGT will also be on the panel.

Dancer Michael Allen will perform at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Expressions.  Jez Colborne and the Mind the Gap Band play Leeds Wharf Chambers.  Mirror Mirror will be part of the opening ceremony of  The Great Exhibition of The North.  Mia, a production making headlinescontinues to tour, and there will be news of a new production on an epic scale.

Mind The Gap – Mirror Mirror
Photograph by Les Parkinson

It is very much worth noting that Mind the Gap’s Performing Arts Academy is oversubscribed, which Julia sees as evidence that there should be more companies like MTG – and consequently fewer talented people who are disappointed when sheer numbers see them turned away.

It’s hugely important to all at Mind the Gap that we shout about the great theatre we create; theatre as it should be – bold, challenging, funny, emotive and thought-provoking. We are fiercely proud of being a theatre company and not a box-ticking exercise.”

Happy 30th birthday to Mind the Gap from all at Leeds Living!

Adam combines his interest in Leeds with a flair for writing discovered back in school days. He says he’ll tackle any topic as long as it’s Leeds.

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