Sweet Taboo: theatre breaking down barriers
Hi, my name is Jenny Musselle and I am 26 years old. I have cerebral palsy and use a wheelchair. I live in my own flat with the support of three PAs who take it in turns to be with me. I am also a very determined person and I don’t let anything stand in the way of my ambition to become a well-known writer.
After leaving college, I spent six years at the Orpheus Centre in Godstone, a performing arts centre for young people with disabilities. While there, I took part in weekly sessions of script writing, including for TV, the stage and film, as well as song writing. For instance, our group created an episode for an imaginary soap and filmed it within a week.
I particularly enjoy script writing as it takes me away from my own problems and helps me express what I feel and care about through the characters I create. People tell me I have a good ear for dialogue. Perhaps that’s because I do a lot of listening! I have continued to write since leaving and have, with the help of a friend scribing for me, now completed three full-length scripts.
The first was called Hard Youth, a thriller centring around a group of young people into whose midst comes a sinister stranger who changes their lives in a dramatic way. The second, called Wanted Blood, was a venture into the supernatural world of vampires and was written as film script. The third, Obsession, features a disabled teenager obsessed with members of a boy band, and through her ability to sing, she finds her way among them. In all three, the themes of loss and longing feature, but with light touches between.
After several unsuccessful attempts to get someone, anyone, interested in my work, I had a breakthrough a few months ago. Having discovered that the Talawa Theatre Company, which specialises in black-led theatre, were looking for new writers, disabled or non-diabled, for their next production, I eagerly applied.
I couldn’t believe it when to my great excitement they replied saying they wanted to see me. Unfortunately, it got off to a bad start as the audition was being held at a place with no disability access. But luckily they kindly arranged for a separate meeting at a different venue. And the result? They took me on! I was the only disabled person involved in the project.
The theme of the play was taboo, centred around a speed dating scenario. My job was to write two scenes based on a couple, the female being disabled. In the first of the scenes, the pair don’t hit it off as the boy doesn’t like the idea of a carer tagging along. The second scene, at the end of the show, has a positive result with the disabled girl winning over the boy with her ability to rap. Here is a short snippet from this scene:
The bell rings and Sarah and Tommy meet up. She manouvres her wheelchair into place
Sarah Are you ok?
Tommy What makes you say that?
Sarah You just look a bit sad.
Tommy Sorry – but I’m finding it a bit difficult to see anything worthwhile in all this. I thought it would make me feel better.
Sarah What do you mean? Better about what?
Tommy My life.
Sarah I’ll swap places.
Tommy (realising the lack of tact) Oh God, I’m an idiot.
Sarah No you’re not. Don’t worry about it. Anyway, what sort of things do you like doing? I’m really into my music.
Tommy Me too. What type of music?
Sarah I like hip hop and rap. I write a bit of rap myself.
Tommy That’s amazing. I like hip hop too. And you write rap. I wish I could.
Sarah It’s easy once you do it a few times. Like – (she goes into rap mode )
“Speed dating is a lot of fun
It’s where you get lucky
and find the ONE!”
(They both laugh)
At least I’ve cheered you up!
The play, Sweet Taboo, aired at the Embassy Theatre in London in August – professional actors on a London stage bringing my words to life! I felt like a celebrity. When the day came, I was really excited, but it felt a bit surreal. Everyone in the company knew me and greeted me as if I was one of them. I felt like I had won the X Factor!
Talawa has a good website for anyone interested in finding out more about them. For any disabled people wishing to write plays, here are a few tips:
- Watch plays on TV or get to see live performances to see how the professionals do it.
- If necessary, get a friend to scribe for you. It can be fun for you both.
- Jot down ideas that come to you about plots or characters. They may be useful to draw upon in the future.
- Look up the Graeae Theatre company website. They specialise in theatre for and by the disabled and often advertise writing projects you can apply for.
- Have patience and don’t give up! I haven’t.
I am now working on adapting Obsession into a musical. Watch this space!
By Jenny Musselle
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