Ellie Griffiths is the new artistic director of Oily Cart theatre company. Currently preparing for the company’s Christmas show, she tells Ruth Comerford about her long-term plans and why there is not enough being done to showcase the work of disabled artists …
How did you get into the industry?
I started off acting. I loved the rehearsals, but then we’d go on tour and perform the same thing to quite passive, mainstream audiences, and I’d always start improvising and annoying the other actors. Bit by bit what I learned was my interest in theatre is to do with work that doesn’t feel passive, and the actor/audience relationship is really played with.
What are you working on at the moment?
We’re in rehearsals for our winter show, All Wrapped Up, which opens on December 10. Oily Cart has always done a winter show and in the past few years had relaxed performances as part of that, but we’re testing a new model that is fully inclusive, and audiences that have more complex needs or autism or different disabilities are invited to every performance.
Do you think enough is being done to showcase the work of disabled artists?
No, not at all. I see lots of community projects that are very high quality and work with participants in very respectful, creative ways – there’s amazing drama therapy, music therapy – but the emphasis is always on educating or helping, and there’s a power dynamic in that. What I don’t see happening is taking those people seriously in their own right, as artists. When people can’t speak in a language we understand, there’s still a huge prejudice. The roots of power in our culture are verbal on every level, so it’s such a huge stigma to break down. If you’re not considering [disabled artists] then you’re actively excluding them, whether that’s conscious or not. It’s no longer acceptable to have a whole group of people you’re just not catering for.
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
We’ve produced Jamboree and All Wrapped Up, so next year we are re-touring some productions, including one called Sound Symphony, specifically for young people with autism. We’re going to do lots of research and artistic development. With sensory practice you’re working in lots of parameters, so you need that time to dig deeper.
What long-term plans do you have for your tenure at Oily Cart?
Myself and Zoë [Lally, executive director] are leading the company together, and will be looking at how we can diversify the creative team and collaborate with our audiences to make the shows. We want to make sure we are creating channels into those environments for people who have disabilities and particularly complex needs. They get listened to least because they don’t have access to language we understand, but they’re always communicating. It’s just a case of spending time to figure out the way they are doing that, and listening to those choices.
Training: Acting at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, 2003-06
First professional role: Erasmus Theatre tour of Frankenstein in Italy (2007)
All Wrapped Up is touring until February 8, 2020