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Theatremaker Jamie Hale: ‘My show went from coming to terms with dying, to coming to terms with living’

Jamie Hale. Photo: Becky Bailey

Theatremaker Jamie Hale is to take over the Barbican’s Pit for a showcase of D/deaf and disabled artists. Hale tells Giverny Masso about their solo show, Not Dying, which forms half of the showcase…

Tell me about your takeover at the Barbican.
CRIPtic is a showcase of D/deaf and disabled artists from across the UK. I feel like D/deaf and disabled people have been making great art for decades and finally theatres are reaching the point of accessibility where we can bring it on to their stages, so I’m really excited to be able to do that. The expected artists include poet and spoken-word artist Jackie Hagan and British Sign Language hip-hop artist Signkid. The Pit Parties are about giving over the Pit Theatre at the Barbican to an emerging curator to have complete creative freedom to put something on that’s entirely their own.

Jackie Hagan on performing her work overseas: ‘People get really emotional about the show’ [1]

How did this come about?
I performed at a showcase for trans artists curated by CN Lester at the Barbican called Transpose [2], and off the back of that I applied to do the Barbican’s Open Lab and developed my solo show Not Dying, which is half of the showcase. When I pitched to the Barbican that they should do a showcase of D/deaf and disabled artists, they were really enthusiastic and said: “Why not do that, and why not make your own solo show half of it?”

Tell me about Not Dying?
When I started writing a solo show, things were looking very dicey with my health. I’d been repeatedly very seriously ill and the future was looking uncertain. I started to write a solo show exploring my relationship with mortality and then a couple of treatment options became available that reduced or eliminated the life-threatening exacerbation and made my future a lot more open. So it went from coming to terms with dying to suddenly having to come to terms with living instead. The solo show pivots from my experience with my body and mortality to what it means to be a disabled person in the world today.

It’s humorous, finding the fun in the way I’m treated, it’s about the decreasing social care system, having the temerity to be disabled and have a sex life. It’s ramps and wheelchair access, and it’s bringing the social and personal aspects together into an overarching narrative of what it means to be alive, what it means to be human, what it means to live with the fact that your body is eventually going to break down and you will eventually die, while making that as fun as possible.

Is theatre becoming more accessible for disabled artists?
One of the big problems is the lack of both physical accessibility and the desire to make those changes. Even where the audience space is accessible, backstage and the stage might not have wheelchair access at all. BSL interpreting often costs money, and theatres often don’t have the funding to put that sort of access in, so the opportunities for D/deaf and disabled people to become involved both on and off stage are really limited by the lack of structures there to support us.

I’ve struggled so much to develop a career as a performer when I’m dependent on wheelchairs and hoists. I can’t just be lifted and plonked on to the stage when my wheelchair weighs 170 kilos. And it’s not safe for any artist to be picked up and plonked down to perform. So it’s really exciting that the Barbican has got behind this.

CV Jamie Hale

Training: None
First professional role: Poetry set as part of Transpose: The Future at  the Barbican (2018)
Agent: None

CRIPtic: Pit Party [3] takes place at the Barbican, London, on October 11-12