The sensuality of slowly undoing a lover’s buttons is irresistible. In our last tech session for Francesca Martinez’s play All of Us, which was due to open at the National Theatre month, director Ian Rickson replaced a previously rehearsed kiss with this gesture to respect social distancing.
He’d adjusted to the rapidly intensifying Covid-19 situation while finding a compelling onstage moment. I felt hope: that we will adjust and re-adjust throughout this crisis. That by embracing the flexibility, inclusivity and access support disabled artists like Martinez have pioneered for years, theatre will resist.
Around the table in February, we knew All of Us was special. In it, Francesca vividly portrays austerity’s injustices and cuts to support for disabled individuals. We couldn’t have imagined how, within weeks, many Britons would be harshly awakened to the need for benefits.
As an emerging director with a largely invisible disability, I couldn’t have moved to London without the financial, professional and emotional support of Graeae’s Ensemble training programme. Having grown up outside London with no contacts in the arts, in January 2018 I had no idea how to enter the industry, let alone communicate my needs.
Graeae empowered me with knowledge. I could ask for flexible work hours, rehearsal room adjustments and Access to Work grants. I could listen to my body’s need for rest instead of feeling ashamed. In addition to galvanising All of Us’ relevance, I hope Covid-19 challenges us to acknowledge the human body’s robust delicacy, to remain sensitive yet rigorous, and commend rehearsal practices like Ian’s.
Our first day of All of Us rehearsals ended with a question: how would we like to work together? Ian’s words facilitated the sharing of needs unique to the 18 bodies in the room. Working from 10:30am until 4:30pm with brief comfort breaks and 45-minute lunches challenged us to remain intently focused.
Our daily work hours remained an open conversation. Reflecting on this and Ian’s ingenuity in supporting a variety of needs fortifies my faith that young directors can ask for the support they need to assist and direct.
At a time of crisis when we focus on our primary needs, we applaud the NHS and other key workers with respect and gratitude. Aged 24, I’m asking: “If my work cannot keep someone alive through food or healthcare, how do I justify committing all my time to it?”
Since early March, how we perform in social settings has evolved drastically. Words such as ‘distancing’, ‘quarantining’ or ‘peaking’ are now loaded with meaning. Who forgets their first refused handshake, socially distanced shopping queue or Zoom meeting? As artists, we must take notice. In this storm’s wake, it’ll be up to us to help process the rapid changes that have occurred, including the scars they’ll leave.
Reflecting on All of Us’ radically inclusive practice fills me with hope that in adjusting we’ll honour our bodies’ differences, prioritise access support and remember that “anyone can become sick or disabled at any time”.
Hana Pascal Keegan most recently worked as staff director for All of Us at The National Theatre, Previously, she has worked on Macbeth at Chichester Festival Theatre, Jellyfish at the National Theatre and London’s Bush Theatre and All My Sons at London’s Old Vic