Kaleidoscope Company: the first disability-led theatre group in the city

There are still a couple of spaces open in Kaleidoscope Company! Email nicola.haigh@storyhouse.com for details.

The annual Kaleidoscope Festival is a hotly-anticipated highlight of the Storyhouse calendar – and this year it will be even more so with the premiere of a performance piece created by the newly-established Kaleidoscope Company.

A collaboration between Storyhouse and Birkenhead-based arts organisation RAWD, the Kaleidoscope Company is the first disability-led theatre group in the city.

It promises to offer talented people aged 16 and over from the Chester area the chance to work with other performers, learn drama, dance and music skills and then to create fantastic theatre in which to showcase them.

As Storyhouse communities manager Nicola Haigh says: “Everyone is an artist and has the right to express themselves artistically.”

“It’s a great place to meet new people, in a comfortable environment where you can develop new skills. It’s also an opportunity to build a new community of people who love to perform.”

The Kaleidoscope Festival celebrates diversity, inclusion and unique abilities and each year it features a rich and varied programme of events and activities including performances, quizzes, film premieres and music along with a colourful city centre parade.

The idea for the new company emerged from an event during last year’s festival week.

RAWD is dedicated to helping disabled people grow within the arts and has more than a decade’s experience of championing disabled artists and putting them centre stage in theatres and festivals across Merseyside.

The boundary-breaking organisation, which embraces innovative storytelling, has also been a part of each Kaleidoscope, either bringing performances by its existing theatre group in Birkenhead or creating specific festival events.

Artistic producer Alice Lapworth explains: “We always try to make sure that as part of our annual programme there are at least two performance opportunities.

“Becoming part of the Kaleidoscope Festival meant we had new people coming to see the shows who hadn’t accessed RAWD performances before, and it was also a chance for all our members to connect with Storyhouse.

“They all live on the Wirral so it’s not too far for them to travel, and there’s so much happening there. They just needed a foot in the door to know it exists and to feel safe and comfortable and it’s their space.

“A lot of them over the years have accessed Storyhouse’s activities and shows. We’ve tried to do RAWD trips to see productions there as well, and to take part in the Kaleidoscope open mic nights and club nights.”

That partnership led to RAWD being invited to run a ‘take over’ of Storyhouse last summer as part of Kaleidoscope, involving a documentary film about the organisation running on the big screen, an interactive quiz in the café and a special two-hour workshop culminating in a flashmob performance.

The workshop attracted around 30 people and was a huge success.

Nicola Haigh (Storyhouse) and Alice Lapworth (RAWD)

Nicola says: “Afterwards, lots of the participants and support workers asked for more of the same, or said could we have a RAWD company in Chester?”

The idea for a permanent company was born, and a successful application was made to the Steve Morgan Foundation which offers funding grants to projects in North Wales, Cheshire and Merseyside that help children and families, people with physical and learning disabilities, the elderly or socially disadvantaged.

The grant will support the new Kaleidoscope Company over its first two terms – from March to July and September to December – and will allow for 15 free places, not including parents or support workers.

Company members will meet weekly and together devise new performance pieces, the first one for this summer’s Kaleidoscope Festival.

Alice says: “I think it will be exciting for them being immersed in Storyhouse itself, with a group of people who get used to being there and as part of that family, and hopefully by the end of that they’ll be a group of 15 disabled artists that feel like they have ownership of the space.

“And that’s what it’s all about. We’re raising voices within the arts from the disabled community who want to do something and share something. And there’s also professionalism there, there’s being part of a theatre company, there’s all those other skills they learn as well.

“It’s about quality. It’s not going to be ribbons on sticks – it’s going to be proper theatre.”