“Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
This was the moment of realisation for our favourite green Christmas character. After going to all his efforts to stop Christmas from coming, the Grinch realised that it doesn’t matter if there’s no presents to open or no Christmas tree in the living room. Hearing the townsfolk join together in joy and song, he finally understood what Christmas is really about – bringing people together, the sharing and giving of more than just tangible objects, and above all, the importance of community.
These are the values behind the true meaning of Christmas, but are also the values at the heart of inclusive theatre. The core idea behind inclusive theatre is simple: everyone is invited to participate. And when everyone is invited to participate, this diversity makes the company stronger, and more able to create inspiring, moving and experimental theatre.
Like the townsfolk singing at the end of the Grinch; young, old, rich, poor all singing together, inclusive theatre is about bringing together people from different backgrounds and experiences, people with and without a disability. As such, it’s about building relationships with people you perhaps wouldn’t meet and have the opportunity to work with or share an experience with. In creating a company from a diverse group of people, you build a wide range of strengths and abilities. This powers the group to create theatre that is strong and unique; theatre that pushes boundaries and has the power to change hearts and minds.
The Grinch discovered that the ideas of sharing and giving go so much deeper than material gifts. In inclusive theatre the gift of participation, of being heard and valued is far more meaningful than any object could ever be. Every person is actively involved in looking out for and supporting one another, in giving each other confidence and helping each person to explore and to grow as actors.
However many grinches there are taking away our presents, they will not succeed in stopping Christmas if we hold dear this deep sense of community and solidarity; if, as in the story, we hold hands and sing together.
This is absolutely at the heart of inclusive theatre – the experience of creating a community. It is this which allows us to feel a deep sense of belonging, which allows us to build meaningful relationships with others. With so many people, particularly those with disabilities experiencing loneliness and isolation, it is essential for our wellbeing. To thrive we must feel connected. The sense of teamwork, cooperation, and ownership of the work helps creates a company in which our ‘otherness’ is respected and valued, where everyone feels welcome, supported and fully able to contribute.