Angela Wrapson: Cultural exchange pays off for actors and audience perceptions

Angela Wrapson: Cultural exchange pays off for actors and audience perceptions
Published Date: 03 February 2009

ANGELA WRAPSON Scottish liaison officer, Turbulences Theatre Company
LUNG Ha's Theatre Company went from its home in Edinburgh to Paris last month for a residency with a French company called Turbulences. In addition to performing their current production, Il Panico di Pantalone, Lung Ha's enjoyed three days of joint
actors' workshops and took part in a Burns supper. What's so amazing about that?
Lung Ha's Theatre Company – so named after a character in its first production – exists to provide professional opportunities for people with learning disabilities to become involved in the performing arts.
So going to Paris meant not only transporting five actors, their three support workers, two musicians and five more company members, but also an electric wheelchair. "The electric wheelchair was the first hurdle," says Michael Fraser, the company manager, "but we came to a special arrangement with Air France pretty quickly".
Then there was the van for the wheelchair and its user, Pantalone himself. In Paris, this cost twice as much to rent as it would in Scotland, and the change in the euro exchange rate made it more expensive still.
A wheelchair-accessible hotel also took some finding – France is nowhere as advanced in these matters as the UK.
Over the past 24 years Lung Ha's has produced nearly 30 original stage productions, making its mark in Scottish theatre. This is not social work – it's genuine theatre. The company has collaborated with a wide array of arts professionals from across Scotland and Europe. In 2005, it was able to appoint a full-time artistic director.
At the time Lung Ha's was founded, in 1984, Philippe Duban started working with autistic adults in day centres around Paris and dreaming of a place they could call their own. The result is Turbulences.
But whereas the Scottish company has a wide remit, Turbulences focuses on autism. And whereas Lung Ha's works out of an office in Edinburgh, Mr Duban realised his dream in May 2007, when Turbulences set up a cultural centre, based around two Big Tops, or chapiteaux – imagine the Spiegeltent without the mirrors – on a gap site in the rue de Courcelles.
It was a Scottish artist working at Turbulences, Dale Joseph Rowe, who proposed the collaboration, and the invitation was issued in September 2008. Not much time to find the funding, but Turbulences and Lung Ha's both made a contribution, there was valuable sponsorship-in-kind from Scottish & Newcastle, and the Scottish Arts Council quickly decided that this was a project worth support.
Turbulences welcomed the Scots with a three-course lunch, which they cook and eat together every weekday. The smaller chapiteau has a professional kitchen, as one of the five programme strands is restaurant service. The other four are performance, visual arts, communications and administration, and there is close integration between clients and staff. It is a facility that we should try to emulate in Scotland.
Then we moved into the big chapiteau, a spectacular performance area 13m in diameter with chandeliers suspended from the roof girders and stepped seating for 300. The Lung Ha's company needed little encouragement to join in, and soon Arlecchino was matching the moves, while Pantalone, Pulcinella, Il Dottore, Columbina and the staff added a distinctive presence to the band.
Commedia del arte, with its grotesque masks and two-dimensional characters, is a theatre form which effortlessly crosses boundaries, and on Friday night the audience gave Il Panico di Pantalone an enthusiastic reception. The actors agreed it was their best performance ever and were delighted by the warmth of the French response, evidenced by three curtain calls and a standing ovation. Turbulences and Lung Ha's is not just about providing an opportunity for the actors. It is about changing audience perceptions.
The ambition now is to complete the exchange by bringing the Turbulences company to Edinburgh.

The full article contains 648 words and appears in The Scotsman newspaper.

* Last Updated: 02 February 2009 10:57 PM
* Source: The Scotsman
* Location: Edinburgh


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