2 March 2018
25 injured veterans will perform in an epic theatre production as part of Blesma's WWI Centenary Commemorations
Extraordinary scenes have been unfolding in a theatre rehearsal studio in East London over the past few months.
Directed by Graeae and delivered in partnership with 1418 Now ‘This Is Not for You' is a performance paying moving tribute to Britain’s wounded war veterans, men and women whose contributions to history often go unnoticed. The piece is directed by Jenny Sealey, written by Mike Kenny and performed by Blesma, The Limbless Veterans, professional performers and a choir of local people.
Blesma members have been trained by the National Centre For Circus Arts especially for the piece .
On the day of our visit to the rehearsal space , hanging from pieces of circus equipment – a rope, a hoop and a hammock – are three of the 25 Blesma Members who are preparing to take part in an epic outdoor aerial performance this Summer. Seventy-one-year-old Tony Lloyd is out of his wheelchair and in fits of laughter, swinging back and forth with great gusto. Nerys Pearce, who also uses a wheelchair, is hoisting herself up a rope with the kind of power that’s won her multiple medals at the Warrior Games.
Meanwhile, Kirk Bowett, who lost part of his left arm in a vehicle blast in Iraq, has managed to get into a hoop and is dangling upside down. “You need upper body and core strength for this – it’s not easy with one arm,” he grins.
Everywhere you look, people are overcoming difficulties to get things done. That’s the Blesma spirit!
“Some of us who would never have dreamed of doing this kind of thing when we were in the military have now got the confidence to perform and act."
These exercises have a wider purpose beyond having fun and learning new skills, however.
Graeae (pronounced grey eye), is the UK’s flagship dramatic company for D/deaf and disabled artists.Jenny Sealey, Graeae's Artistic Director, who co-directed the London Paralympic Games opening ceremony says "Those injured people who were involved in the 2012 ceremony found aerial work allowed them to readdress their physicality. They felt liberation, empowerment and renewal. I look for performers who have a strength, a maverick sense, and the willingness to take a risk. These skills can help in a very interesting way in terms of their long-term rehabilitation."
Jenny, a former actress, has been the Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Graeae for 20 years.
Tell us about Graeae’s aims?
Our vision is to fight the inequality and the lack of visibility of deaf and disabled people in theatre. We want to push the boundaries into the arts in general. It’s about putting deaf and disabled people centre stage.
After injury, there are many barriers to break through to feel like a person again, and that’s why organisations like Blesma are so important.
How impressed are you by Blesma’s performers?
They have a drive, resilience, and a beautiful vulnerability. The guys I’ve talked to wear their hearts on their sleeves and are very emotionally literate. They fit well with Graeae. We’re not a company that sits still. We do a lot with very little money.
It’s very important to tell our stories – the focus of today’s world has moved on from injured veterans
“I’d like people to remember what wounded veterans have been through a little more." says Jenny Sealey
"Often, society likes to forget those soldiers, because they are physical reminders of the atrocities of war. But when we remember the dead, we also have to remember the living.
The show will demonstrate the extraordinariness of the human spirit, and it ends with quite a euphoric moment, with our actors saying; ‘Look at us’."
It’s something that resonates with the Members who are dangling upside down from the array of apparatus. “I’ve been in situations where people didn’t know how to deal with my injuries,” says Alan Long, who lost a hand in a forklift truck accident – it was later sewn back on – and a leg in a vehicle incident.
“My son married a woman who had two children, and they used to be very unsure about my leg. But once they got to know me, they realised it wasn’t an important thing – and now they even play with it! “
An old friend used to cross the street to avoid me. I eventually knocked on his door and spoke to his wife. She told me that he didn’t know what to say to me. But it didn’t matter what he said. We’re great pals again now, and it’s important to keep the message out there. Hopefully, a show that involves injured veterans will do that.”
It’s also a clear sign that Blesma is now truly expanding its creative horizons.
Artistic projects such as the photography group and the Community Programme are becoming more and more popular within the Association, and cater for many Members who perhaps don’t all fancy the idea of a tough physical challenge.
As Jenny says: “There are many artists and poets in the Armed Forces. Some just don’t quite know it yet!”
See the show...
July 2018 Greenwich + Docklands International Festival London
August 2018 Stockton International Riverside Festival Stockton-on-Tees