Archive for November, 2011|Monthly archive page

How to communicate when you have to be quiet…

As you may know, I’m working with a group of young people called The Mouthy Poets, who are currently based at Nottingham Playhouse. Each week we meet to explore words and communication, writing, performing (we work towards two main performances a year and a number of ‘satellite’ performances). One of our members is Maresa Mackeith, she is also a member of a group called Quiet Riot. Quiet Riot are a group of people who are unable to speak, for a variety of reasons, they communicate via signs, spelling boards, voice coders etc. They also write and campaign for recognition of those of us who have the inability to speak aloud.

For someone like me, who talks a LOT, to lose the power of speech would seem catastrophic. At Mouthy we are very vocal, we talk, we sing, we  gabble, we interject, interrupt, laugh, disagree, cheer, support, all OUT LOUD. So at the beginning of November I devised a workshop where I asked the group to communicate about an event in the week, by writing it down a-word-at-a-time.

They wrote the first word on a small piece of paper, then passed this to their neighbour, who read it to the group. This took a looong time! But we were all very patient and a hush fell whilst this was taking place. When we reached Maresa, her mum Caroline (who attends as her PA, but also gets stuck in to the exercises for herself) took her hand and together they spelled out on an alphabet board, what Maresa wanted to share. She is a past-master at this and is able to explain briefly, yet succinctly, what she has done, how she was feeling about it, what she is feeling now about it. She has honed the art of precis. When she ‘speaks’ we all fall silent and wait, there is no sense of impatience and we are all impressed with her choice of words. Whilst we gabble and splurge about this and that, she speaks in clear statements which cut to the crux of the matter.

Once we had gone around the circle, we talked about how the exercise had made us feel. Had it affected what we were going to say? Did we decide to abbreviate? Did we feel frustrated? Did we feel liberated? And Maresa… how did she feel watching us all communicating in a similar way to her? She said she enjoyed the speed… the pace.

I then gave them ten minutes to write a piece about the event we had been focussing on. I asked them to make sure their writing was clear as we would be sharing these with the group. When they had finished, I asked them to swap their writing with somebody else – then each person had to perform that piece as if it were their own. If they were not happy with what they had written, they could choose a few lines from it, but they had to give that piece over to someone else to work on.

The results were amazing. Some really thoughtful writing came out and because they were conscious that they were performing somebody else’s piece (although I had told them they could edit if they saw fit) they treated the performance with real commitment. Each performer somehow retained their own voice, but applied it to the writing of their partner. What was most encouraging was that listening to their work performed by somebody else, gave them confidence – there were writers who didn’t really like their piece when they wrote it, but when they heard it, they changed their mind. Even those who had been satisfied with their piece when they had written it, said they were happier with it when they heard it performed by somebody else.

I am conscious that for members of Quiet Riot to have their work heard, they have to rely on other performers, performers like Mouthy Poets – so for me it is important that Mouthy Poets understand how it feels to hand over your hard work to somebody else and let them do with it what they will. I also believe that a writer should be able to put their words onto the page in such a way that a performer can deliver that work as they intended it – that’s not to say that every performer won’t interpret that piece of writing in their own way, but a good writer should consider every word, every comma or dash or space.

Quiet Riot and Mouthy Poets are putting together a visual exhibition to celebrate Disability History Month, which runs from November 22nd to December 22nd. We hope to include work by Quiet Riot and Mouthy, as well as poems written in the 1800s by disabled writers. It would be great if we could have work in braille too and art works as well as written pieces. The exhibition will be at Nottingham Playhouse in the upper foyer.

If anyone has a piece of writing or a piece of visual art they feel would be appropriate please contact me and I can put you in touch with Maresa and Jim who are coordinating the event.