BBC and UK Arts Councils celebrate the work of disabled artists with Culture In Quarantine commissions

Twelve D/deaf, neurodivergent and disabled professional artists based in England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have been commissioned to produce new film and audio works for BBC platforms this summer.

The commissioning programme is part of BBC Arts’ Culture In Quarantine initiative, which has brought the arts into people’s homes during lockdown. The 12 new commissions will champion the work of disabled artists by helping them produce work when some may have been self-isolating, and provide a platform to explore their experiences of living through Covid-19.

The programme was established in a partnership between BBC Arts, Arts Council England, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Arts Council of Wales and Creative Scotland to mark the 25th anniversary of the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act into law, forming part of wider disability programming across the BBC.

The film and audio works commissioned include performance dramas, dance, comedy, spoken word poetry and animation, with the majority of artists highlighting aspects of the disabled experience of living through the pandemic.

Commissions were selected by a panel including representatives from BBC Arts, Arts Council England, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Arts Council of Wales, Creative Scotland, Unlimited and the UK Disability Arts Alliance.

Lamia Dabboussy, BBC Head of Arts says: “This batch of commissions from artists across the country showcases the breadth of inspiring work we’ve all missed experiencing over this past lockdown year.

“I’m thrilled that, as part of Culture In Quarantine, these pieces will be brought to life across BBC platforms. It’s imperative that D/deaf, neurodivergent and disabled professional artists are supported to carry on making brilliant work, as the constraints and continuing effects of this pandemic threaten to silence their vital creative voice.”

The new commissions

  • Silent World, a short music film by Deaf musician Signkid, using rap, spoken word and Signkid’s innovative ‘sign-slang’ to creatively explore how living in a silent world has intensified during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Hen Night, a short film by award-winning theatre and screen writer/director Vici Wreford-Sinnott, inspired by the writing of award-winning journalist Frances Ryan. Jessica has just had her hen night – a last night of freedom but not in the ways she, or any of us, might have imagined.
  • Arising out of lockdown, Spectrum Sounds by Andrew Hugill, a collection of seven short pieces of music, associated with the colours of the autistic spectrum.
  • Face It, filmed comedy drama monologues by writer Miranda Walker about two women exploring how they feel about their faces in the modern swipe-right world, and the impact of wearing face masks to protect against Covid-19. Produced by Michaela Hennessy-Vass.
  • How To Thrive In 2050! 8 Tentacular Workouts For A Tantalising Future! Film by artist Kai Syng Tan. A call for action for a more creative, equitable and neuro-fantastic future by a ‘human-octopussy’.
  • Film adapted from her one-woman show Earth To Alice, written and performed by Belfast poet and stand-up comedian Alice McCullough, about navigating the twists and turns of bipolar disorder during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Pandemic Parenting: Pandemonium, dance theatre film by Irish playwright Shannon Yee, exploring the unique challenges for parents of newly born and young children during lockdown.
  • The Cat, The Mouse And The Sausage, an animation of a Grimm’s Brothers fairy tale by award-winning filmmaker Joel Simon.
  • Film adaptation of stage show Louder Is Not Always Clearer, created by Mr and Mrs Clark and performed by Deaf artist Jonny Cotsen (pictured), an honest portrayal of the vulnerability of a Deaf man in a hearing world.
  • Complexity Of Skin, a dance film co-directed, written, choreographed and performed by Matthew Gough and Krystal S. Lowe, exploring touch in periods of isolation and set in a flat during lockdown.
  • Blind-sided, a radio comedy-drama of a day in the lockdown life of blind comedian Jamie MacDonald as he leaves the familiarity of his home in Glasgow.
  • Aisle, by Ellen Renton and Jess Fig, a short film combining poetry and illustration exploring the disabled experience of going to the supermarket during the pandemic.

Darren Henley, Chief Executive of Arts Council England, says: “Culture and creativity have been lifelines for many of us throughout the pandemic, so we’re excited to support these commissions, which will encourage D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent artists to explore their experiences of lockdown, and ensure audiences can continue to enjoy even more brilliant cultural work across BBC platforms.”

Gilly Campbell, Head of Community Arts and Education, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, comments: “The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is proud to partner with BBC Arts and The Space to offer three artists from Northern Ireland the opportunity to create new work as part of BBC Arts’ Culture In Quarantine initiative. Alice McCullough, Shannon Yee and Joel Simon are hugely talented voices in the arts sector here in Northern Ireland and we’re delighted that their work will be championed on a UK-wide platform, offering a significant increase in profile for these artists.”

Minister, Deirdre Hargey MLA, Department for Communities, NI Executive, says: “This is a very important project and a great opportunity to support our D/deaf disabled artists to develop professionally and create new work that can be showcased locally, nationally and internationally.”

Diane Hebb, Director of Arts Engagement, Arts Council of Wales, says: “In this extraordinary year when the impact of the pandemic has had such a disruptive and alarming impact on so many lives, particularly the lives of our most vulnerable people, it’s more important than ever to support and showcase the work of our inspirational creative artists. We are delighted to see our own Wales-based artists included in this programme of sensitive and provocative work and hope that audiences across the UK will be inspired by their resilience, creativity and incredible talent.”

Iain Munro, CEO, Creative Scotland, comments: “Creative Scotland is thrilled to support this incredible range of talented artists and inspiring commissions as part of our partnership with BBC Arts and The Space, bringing the work of talented D/deaf, neurodivergent and disabled artists to BBC platforms. We celebrate the way diversity of thought and a diversity of experience feeds innovation and creativity and are delighted that thanks to National lottery players, audiences will enjoy and be inspired by the wide range of stories, perspectives and experiences supported through this initiative.”

Each of the commissioned artists will be assigned an Executive Producer from digital support agency The Space, in partnership with Unlimited, an arts commissioning programme that enables new work by disabled artists to reach UK and international audiences. The Executive Producer will mentor and support the artists throughout production and delivery of their work to BBC platforms this summer.

These commissions build on the success of BBC Arts Culture In Quarantine artists’ commissioning strand, launched in April 2020 by BBC Arts and Arts Council England, which invited artists to give a creative response to the challenges of lockdown. A total of 25 commissions were produced, which achieved audiences in the millions across BBC and social platforms.

Culture In Quarantine commissions for Disabled Artists

SILENT WORLD – Signkid, England

Silent World is a musical short film using rap, spoken word and BSL sign-slang featuring ‘Signkid’ as a central character and musical narrator. The film will creatively explore the ‘SILENT WORLD’ that has intensified and deepened for people in the course of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hen Night – Vici Wreford-Sinnott and Frances Ryan, England

Hen Night is an all too real tale inspired by the award-winning journalism of Frances Ryan and written and directed by Vici Wreford-Sinnott. Against a backdrop of the pandemic and budget cuts, we meet young and fiercely independent Jessica, as she’s told her care package is to be cut. As her story unfolds, we see the extraordinary mix of pride and vulnerability, and the fight that comes when you want to hold on to your independence and dignity.

Spectrum Sounds – Andrew Hugill, England

Arising out of lockdown, Spectrum Sounds is a collection of seven short pieces of music in the colours of the spectrum. As an autistic man, Andrew’s listening has several distinctive features: heightened sensitivity to patterns or details that others do not always notice; the ability to decompose music or soundscape into its constituent parts and the synaesthetic association of colours with certain musical and non-musical sounds. Spectrum Sounds will draw out the richness and beauty of sound colours that are associated with the colours of the autistic spectrum.

Face It – Miranda Walker, England

The Face It comedy drama monologues reveal how two women feel about their faces in the modern swipe-right world, and the unexpected impact of wearing Covid-19 face masks. Meet straight-talking Leonie who has an acquired facial difference and ambitious Abbey, who’s no longer prepared to be overlooked.

How To Thrive In 2050: 8 Tentacular Workouts For A Tantalising Future! – Kai Syng Tan, England

A manifesto by a ‘human-octopussy’ of a more creative and equitable future. Blending discourse with mythology, interview with autobiography, geomancy with geopolitics, the intimate and the celestial, this essay is a retort to our troubled moment of multiple crises, and call to imagine and act on how things could become. Prepared to be disorientated, surprised, provoked, and re-energised.

Earth To Alice – Alice McCullough, Northern Ireland

Alice is a poet, but she tries not to show it. She doesn’t want to end up in hospital again. She doesn’t mean to disconnect from reality, it just kind of.. happens. Earth To Alice is a three-part comedy-drama about a 30-something woman navigating the twists and turns of bipolar disorder down the rabbit hole of life in East Belfast. Set against the backdrop of the magical Beechie River, Alice moves between two worlds, simultaneously living out an adventure of colourful, mystical surprises whilst devastatingly stuck in a state of crippling disempowerment. Will it be ‘off with her head’? or will our heroine find a way to overcome the challenges of mental unrest and find peace in her own private Wonderland? At times moving and thought-provoking, at times laugh-out-loud hilarious, this combination of art, poetry, film and comedy is a timely and uncompromising look into the challenges and prejudices many people face on the road to recovery from serious mental illness.

Pandemic Parenting: Pandemonium – Shannon Yee, Northern Ireland

Pandemic Parenting: Pandemonium is a dance theatre piece exploring the unique and diverse challenges for parents of newly born and young children during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. The project integrates desktop research and interviews with parents, educators and mental health professionals in Northern Ireland.

The Cat, The Mouse And The Sausage – Joel Simon, Northern Ireland

An animated film adaptation of a Grimm’s Brothers fairy tale, The Mouse, The Bird And The Sausage. The film is set in a large dystopian western city where three strangers – a cat, a mouse and a sausage – meet on the street and share a small flat in order to save money. This tragicomic fable holds much relevance today, namely that no matter how well our life’s circumstances, we are bound to be dissatisfied if we think that we could lead a better life.

Louder Is Not Always Clearer – Jonny Cotsen, Wales

An inspiring story of a Deaf man’s life journey in a hearing world, as he learns to get by while gaining a deeper understanding of his own identity. An adaptation of the Mr & Mrs Clarks’ celebrated stage show Louder Is Not Always Clearer, where performance art and physical theatre is used to recreate moments from Jonny’s life. The show created by Gareth Clark, Catherine Bennett, Marega Palser and Jonny Cotsen was described as a “brilliant exercise in empathy” by Lyn Gardner and shortlisted for a Total Theatre Award for Innovation, Experimentation and Playing With Form.

Complexity of Skin – Matthew Gough and Krystal S. Lowe, Wales

Complexity of Skin is a dance film which explores touch in periods of isolation. Set in a flat during lockdown, we meet two Black, neurodivergent people whose desire for touch collides with the discomfort it causes. Moving in and out of physical contact, they share feelings, memories, hopes, and fears as their relationship develops.

Blind-sided – Jamie MacDonald, Scotland

A comedy drama, portraying a day in the lockdown life of blind comedian Jamie MacDonald. As the pandemic hit, Jamie’s high-flying wife landed her dream job as a paediatric surgeon in Sheffield, leaving him little choice but to leave the familiarity of his home in Glasgow. In a strange new place, stripped of the job he worked so hard to define him, he’s had to come up with ways to fill his days and reassert the control he once had over his disability, in a world that’s out of control.

AISLE – Ellen Renton and Jess Fig, Scotland

A film combining poetry and illustration exploring the disabled experience of being in the world during the Covid-19 pandemic. Focused on the act of going to the supermarket, AISLE will open up a discussion about the ways in which disabled people have been forced to relinquish their independence during this time.

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