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Being a Shyster: Re-visioning the Actor with Learning Disabilities

Abstract

A personal introduction by Clive Barker on the place of the Shysters in Midlands theatre: I moved from London to Birmingham around the time the new Birmingham Rep was built. I thought it had all the worst features of a theatre and all the best features of a municipal crematorium. There were serious flaws, too, with the Midlands Art Centre, although my children enjoyed the Saturday morning activities. However, soon a group of idealists founded the Birmingham Arts Lab, whose work was exciting and enjoyable, and brought to the city the best of new experimental theatre. Some years later I moved to Coventry, which I had thought of as a theatrical desert since the death of Brian Bailey, with the Belgrade staggering through a succession of unfortunate managements. But the past ten years have seen a glorious flowering of small companies which display both vision and technical ability. Central to this activity are the Shysters, a group of actors with learning disabilities who have found ways of turning these into their own distinctive theatrical style and language. Since I sit on their board of directors I have felt it difficult to write personally about their work in NTQ, and was delighted when Rachel Karafistan remedied this deficiency by offering us the following article. I love the Shysters: their work entrances me, and I would willingly see their shows once a week if possible. They help to make being sent to Coventry a rich theatrical experience.

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New Theatre Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0266-464X
  • EISSN: 1474-0613
  • URL: /core/journals/new-theatre-quarterly
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