A community in lockdown – local theatre move rehearsals online

How Birmingham based InteGreat Theatre are maintaining togetherness in these challenging times

Loneliness and isolation are increasingly challenging for people while our country is in lock-down. Is there a solution? Well, there is one word that we often use when referring to a group of people with common interests, in a common location, or engaged together in the same pastime, and that word is community. One could argue that it’s an effective antidote for the current social challenges presented by being on one’s own, feeling isolated and detached from fellow humans.

We spoke via video on Zoom with Angela Twigg, Artistic Director of the well-established InteGreat Theatre, pictured below with the theatre’s Chair, James McLean.

InteGreat is a Birmingham based community theatre company for deaf and hearing adults, and what comes across loud and clear is their sense of togetherness. It’s a place where adults from both the deaf and hearing community can perform, socialise and have fun with others from all walks of life, regardless of their age, race, colour or sexuality.

It all began around the year 2000 then the Birmingham Quakers wanted to make their music and theatre group more open to deaf people. Angela started volunteering for the group back in 2001 and by 2005, as the role grew, Angela had turned it into a full-time job. Back then, the group was primarily a youth theatre as they received supportive funding from Children in Need. Now, the aim and ethos of the theatre is to integrate the hearing and deaf communities of all ages.

Members and supporters found massive barriers between the two communities, that they were segregated on things and they wanted a change. Angela explains that all members are taught basic deaf awareness and they also have professionally qualified interpreters to support interaction.

Angela adds: “We had some money from Awards for All, the National Lottery and also the Health Lottery. And last year it was great to have financial support from Ageing Better in Birmingham too. That enabled us to create a small show and pay for a float at Birmingham Pride Festival last year (2019).”

About a third of members are over 55, the oldest is a lady in her 70s.

Angela continues: “She doesn’t do technology at all, lives on her own, and has been with us since the start. It’s like a family here, if ever she needs anything, she knows the others are not far away. We’re helping her out with the technology so that she can stay in touch during the isolation.

“We welcome everybody who is interested in drama, regardless of their age, background, or ability. One of our over 50’s has learning difficulties, another lives alone. The theatre is a lifeline to all of them.”

Every year, InteGreat Theatre put on one big show or two small ones. This year, in January, they staged their very first panto. It was an idea they had, where they merged three pantos into one and the result was a very well received Jack and the 3 Panto Lands. They performed it twice at one of Birmingham’s oldest theatre companies, The Crescent, and for schools in the city. They had an attendance of over 600 people!

All the scripts and songs are written in house by the twenty-strong theatre membership: half with hearing, half without. And they’re not afraid to tackle difficult issues. A recent production called “Mirror” portrayed a world where being deaf was the norm and those with hearing were the exception.

Angela again: “Everything on stage is accessible to both hearing and deaf people, a deaf person can watch the show as can a hearing person and still understand what’s going on. We are really breaking down barriers, helping people to understand how we can all be a part of the Birmingham community, regardless of our abilities, who we are, or where we come from.

“Despite the challenges of lockdown, we are still managing to keep our Saturday sessions and rehearsals going. It’s our 10th anniversary this year, and we’re doing an online performance at 7:00 pm, on July 11th from our Facebook page, so please tune in if you can!”

One thing’s for sure, whilst the physical proximity of the theatre members has had to change for now, it’s great to see how rehearsals, socialising and even performances have carried on regardless. A true Community, and one of which the InteGreat theatre can certainly be proud.

InteGreat Theatre company are celebrating their 10th Anniversary with a virtual performance on 11th July, 7:00 pm, broadcast from their Facebook page.

For more details, visit www.facebook.com/InteGreatTheatre or email: contact@integreattheatre.org.uk

This blog was originally published by Ageing Better Birmingham on 4 May 2020. https://www.ageingbetterinbirmingham.co.uk/learn-more-get-inspired-by-stories/stories/integreat-theatre-maintaining-togetherness