As people who stammer, we often feel trapped within ourselves, unable to give the world a true account of who we are. We accumulate layers of armour – inhibition, avoidance and self-censorship – that we hope will protect us from humiliation and rejection but that usually end up merely isolating us. By fixating on perfect speech as our sole means of relating to others, we become convinced that we are failures as communicators. But what if we moved beyond this assumption to consider that speech involves more than just avoiding hesitation, deviation and repetition? That communication involves more than just speech?
This is one of the aims behind an ambitious new project devised by BSA Scotland in collaboration with the Citizens’ Theatre in Glasgow that is bringing together young adults who stammer for a series of drama workshops. Through improvisation, play and spontaneity, the workshops, led by drama worker Louise Brown, encourage participants to lose inhibitions, to escape perceived limitations, and to take pleasure in using the whole body expressively.
At the first session, we were invited to introduce ourselves to fellow group members by sharing two truths and one lie about ourselves. Then, chatting in small groups, as if at a party, we spun endless yarns based on the lies. So we had a cat breeder who had produced a man-sized cat, a wealthy woman from Perthshire with a mildewy swimming pool, and someone who’d flown in from Greece specially to attend the session.
What is Posh and Becks’ love nest like? Or the Queen’s bedroom? Or Vin Diesel’s bathroom? These questions formed the basis of further activities as small groups collaborated to create their own visions of these bizarre worlds, which they then presented to the others.
In session two we explored status – what it feels like to adopt a high-status persona or a low-status persona and how this affects how we behave towards others. How might such a person walk … talk? We then played out all sorts of improvisations based on the interaction of pairs of ‘high’ and ‘low’: teacher and pupil; policeman and driver; parent and child. All were explored from both angles, so as well as a disdainful teacher tyrannising a pupil we were treated to a cocky teenager running rings around his ineffectual father.
This pilot series of workshops, and the group of young adults who stammer that is becoming established through it, will inform a longer term project, ‘Outspoken’, that proposes developing a piece of theatre on the theme of stammering. The resulting play will be performed at the Citizens’ Theatre and toured round selected secondary schools in the spring of 2009. Scottish Arts Council funding of £19,250 has already been secured and the balance for the project is currently being sought.
Meantime, we hope that through our participation in the current sessions we will become more confident all-round communicators who will feel able to express ourselves more freely wherever this matters in our lives.
Fellow participants have commented:
“The workshops have been brilliantly led. The pace is fast – exciting! I have learned that standing up and facing people in a crowd is not that difficult – even when they’re people with different perspectives. Being taught about gesture, the body and its place in space has made me more aware of self-expression and unconventional ways of communication.” “It’s really nice to meet people who have the same problem as you with speech, because it’s easier to say what you want when everyone understands you frequently have difficulty speaking. Everyone is friendly and we always have a good laugh.” “Working with the Glasgow Citizens’ Theatre has been creative, challenging and uplifting so far. I appreciate the sessions and wish to develop even more in an acting way.”
By Simon Vaughan