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Be there at the start: Pete Edwards talks about making work on sexual abuse / 4 September 2014

By Colin Hambrook

Pete Edwards has set himself some interesting challenges for his Unlimited research and development project.

Pete’s award is to explore the difficult and taboo subject of rape and sexual abuse. He wrote a play about his life story after doing a Graeae Missing Pieces training course. However, when it came to the proposal for Unlimited he put the script to one side, making the decision that he wanted to devise a piece with actors, who like himself, have different speech patterns.

He toured his one-man show FAT - a multi-media exploration of a gay disabled man’s desire, sexuality and urge to communicate through 2009-10 and took it to Edinburgh Fringe in 2012, produced by ArtsAdmin. After FAT, he decided he wanted to concentrate on directing, specifically working out a way of including actors with different speech, without the constraint of having the speech interpreted for the audience.

He said that “A year ago we did a whole range of drama exercises looking at how actors could work on stage without text or without someone speaking on their behalf and that’s why I wanted to direct, so I can look at that for other people.”

Sexual abuse is an issue that gets hidden and needs addressing. Working on such a sensitive subject has meant putting his actors through some upsetting scenarios. He wanted to highlight the oft-forgotten fact that disabled people can be also be the abusers! So through the dividing process they have a code word ‘banana’, which basically means ‘I’m uncomfortable with what I’m doing. Can we stop and talk about what’s happening.”

Sexual abuse is not a comfortable subject for mainstream theatres to programme. Ruth Gould from DaDaFest raised the fear that issue-based shows are often pushed into an educational context, instead of being made for larger theatre spaces for a wider audience. 

As the piece is developing so it’s turning into a story that contains a mix of realism with more abstract scenes that weave in and out of each other. 

Abuse is something that often gets pushed to one side. But with the rise in hate crime against disabled people, it strikes me as a more and more important area to make art about.

Keywords: abuse,access issues,sexual abuse,theatre,unlimited