The British Council, in partnership with Owlspot Theatre and Graeae Theatre Company, is staging a collaborative production of "The Tempest: Swimming for Beginners" from 1 to 6 June 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. The production features disabled directors and cast members from three countries - Japan, the UK and Bangladesh. In addition to their diverse national and cultural backgrounds, the cast also have different disabilities, which is incorporated into the production.
Two Bangladeshi artists with disabilities, Morshed Mia and Md Saddam Bepary are performing in this production. Morshed, who acts the part of Trinculo, aims to break the shackles of the concept of ‘disability’ and mark his name in the world of theatre. Saddam, who plays the part of Stephano in the Tempest, hails from Madaripur. Both the actors started their journey in the world of theatre with Bangladesh’s first disability theatre, "A Different Romeo and Juliet", a theatre play produced by the British Council in association with Dhaka Theatre and Graeae Theatre.
Disability, language and distance: an international collaboration that overcomes these three barriers.
Directed by Jenny Sealey, the Artistic Director of the Graeae Theatre Company in the UK, the performance will continue the legacy of the 2012 London Paralympic Games. It aims to be a stepping stone for disabled artists to expand their careers and create a barrier-free environment for both artists and audiences. Jenny herself is a deaf director. Her effective use of sign language and audio description has won her an international reputation, and her creative and inclusive direction is a key feature of this production. In addition to Jenny, the production will be directed by Hiroe Ohashi and Yasushi Oka.
In 2019, the Bangladeshi artists with disabilities travelled to the UK to attend disability theatre workshops that were organised by the British Council, in association with Graeae Theatre Company. These series of workshops were attended by participants from Japan, Bangladesh and the UK, to lead up to the production of the re-imagination of William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.
The play was originally planned to be performed in May 2020. Due to the spread of Covid-19, the date of the performance was postponed, but the artists from each participating country continued to prepare online throughout 2020. The artists from the UK and Bangladesh is performing in the play via recorded videos, where as Jenny has been directing the play remotely. The performance is therefore a new form of international collaboration that overcomes the three barriers of disability, language and distance.
The play has been created to be enjoyed by disabled audiences. For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, there are projected subtitles, as well as sign language and written communication, from the moment audience members step foot into the venue. For those who are blind or have difficulty seeing, the theatre provides transport from Higashi-Ikebukuro station to the theatre, and an audio guide explaining the stage setting before the performance.
An original production based on Shakespeare's The Tempest
This play is a bold modern reworking of Shakespeare's last play, reflecting the impact of Covid-19 on the world. The Tempest is said to be as transparent as the wind after a storm. In its romantic and supernatural elements - fate, the wonders of nature, the guidance of the gods, reconciliation - we can see Shakespeare's message of human reverence and affirmation. What is noteworthy is the way the message of the play is expressed to the audience by the actors, who come from different disabilities and cultural backgrounds.