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LeanerFasterStronger: blurbs, images, publicity / 28 October 2011

I have a love-hate relationship with publicity materials and the PR machine. I know production images, blurb and press releases are essential for the successful publicising of a production, but that still doesn’t lessen the pain of trying to create material that bears some relation to the content of the show, whilst also keeping artistic integrity, and not giving the game away….

I know it’s a personal predilection, but I dislike publicity material which tells me too much. I’m not interested in knowing what successful production this new one could be compared to (‘if you liked Mamma Mia, you’ll love this…’). I don’t want to be directed too much in how to perceive the show, nor do I want to know the age, inner thoughts, or inside leg measurements of the characters in the pre-show blurb. I intend to see the performance to experience all that. I want the briefest sense of what the production is about – the theme or subject matter, the company and collaborators – director and creators or playwright – and that’s good enough for me.

I’m currently travelling in North America and Canada and have been surprised by some live performance publicity which have been the equivalent of a film spoiler (I think that’s a more appropriate term than ‘film trailer’). It’s not that I need to be in a heightened ‘what’s going to happen?’ thriller-like state to go and enjoy a performance – I’m a serial-Beckett fan and so have seen multiple versions of the same plays, and will continue to do so in the future – it’s all to do with tone and being spoon-fed.

So pity Sheffield Theatres creative producer Andrew Loretto and Chol Theatre’s artistic director Susan Burns, who approached me recently about the blurb for our 2012 production LeanerFaster Stronger…

I’m fortunate in that I’ve always written or been centrally involved in the publicity material for any play I’ve written. I’ve found that this becomes a necessity when the work is disability-led, or features actors who have physical or sensory impairments – which much of my work does. I have lost count of the number of altercations I have had with journalists, newspapers and marketing departments about inappropriate or even downright offensive language used in regards to my work, or my talented collaborators.

Several years ago I reduced the marketing department of a theatre to embarrassment and tears after I deconstructed their publicity material, revealing how it not only adhered to the Medical Model of Disability, but also reduced my feisty, outrageous, foul-mouthed crip protagonists into pathetic victims defined merely by their condition. The fact this treatment was then extended to defining some of the company members was unacceptable and much debate and consultation followed. I admired the company’s willingness to learn and make amends, but know many similar well-meaning but problematic errors are still being made, despite the many Disability Equality Training initiatives companies participate in. A disability awareness takes time to be absorbed fully into the body of a company, and until my crip  normality is if not the norm, at least relevant and valid, I’ll continue to write the blurb for my plays.

In the case for LeanerFasterStronger, I’m working with companies which are not only disability-aware, but positively disability-welcoming, and the director is a fellow viz imp. I had few qualms, then, when looking at the material they suggested for publicity. After a few tweaks we got our collectively-created blurb, which follows, below – but not yet the defining image for the production. The exploration continues. Watch this space.

Chol Theatre & Sheffield Theatres present 
24 May – 2 June 2012, 7.45 pm
Matinees: 2.15pm, 31 May & 2.15pm, 2 June 
at Crucible Studio Theatre, 
55 Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 1DA
0114 249 6000

How far would you go to be the best?
What if bio-engineered body parts and medical science were on tap to make you leaner, faster and stronger? 
Would you fight it; or embrace the brave new world? 
A darkly humorous and provocative theatre experience which explores the limits of what human means.
Written by Kaite O’Reilly (winner of the Ted Hughes Award for Poetry 2010), directed by Andrew Loretto, designed by Shanaz Gulzar.
LeanerFasterStronger is a Chol Theatre and Sheffield Theatres coproduction.

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