It’s hard to believe how long Reassembled, Slightly Askew has been in development, beginning with my personal experience in Dec 2008 (when what took precedent was surviving my subdural empyema) through today, when it has won numerous accolades across medical and arts settings, and plans are in motion for its London debut as part of Battersea Arts Centre’s ‘A Nation’s Theatre Festival’ in May.
Sometimes it helps to map out the journey of development, to see how all those steps, literal (memories of learning how to walk again will never leave me) and figurative (oh, those funding applications and project management emails!) have built on each other to create the project and potential that it is today. Here goes…
Dec 2008–One hour away from death from a subdural empyema. Admitted to Royal Victoria Hospital’s acute Neurosurgical Ward (Belfast). Underwent first craniotomy, involving bone flap being removed from skull and placed in subcutaneous pouch in abdomen. Three weeks later, regrowth of abscesses occurred, requiring a second surgery.
Feb 2009— Discharged from Royal Victoria Hospital, still undergoing oral antibiotic treatment. Still with a section of my skull in my abdomen.
April 2009— Final surgery to replace bone flap in skull. The real challenge begins: “What is this brain injury??!!”
Early Spring 2010— Met up with director Anna Newell to explore the prospect of creating something interdisciplinary about my experience of being ‘disassembled, and reassembled, slightly askew’, focusing on integration of movement (because of my hemi-paralysis down my left side) and sound (because of my noise sensitivity) with dramatic text.
2010— secured a Joint Sectoral Dramaturgy Fund grant (administered by Tinderbox) to work with the interdisciplinary artistic team to explore how binaural microphone technology, sound, choreography and dramatic text work together. Used a whole load of my journal notes and medical reports.
2011— secured an Arts & Disability Award Ireland (administered by Arts & Disability Forum) to do further research and development with the artistic team in Sonic Arts Research Centre at Queens University, Belfast. After creating a general 3-act storyboard of the story structure, we focused on the first act (or fog) to test out. Dramatic narrative, movement, sound, choreography and sonic arts had not yet been integrated in this rigorous way before, so we were not only creating the piece, we were creating the artistic language and conventions at the same time.
2012— Tested out Fog 1 at the Pick N Mix work-in-progress festival at the MAC, followed by a month-long stint at Arts & Disability Forum’s gallery space.
2013— Artistic reflections and meetings led to Shannon’s application to the Wellcome Trust Public Engagement Awards Small Arts Awards (£30,000), which was successful in May 2013, and enabled the artistic team to work with Shannon’s medical team to progress the project.
2014— Shannon was successful in her application to the MAC to be a Hatch-supported artist, giving her space in the building, support from the staff, a small stipend, and time to bring the project to the next level with focus groups of arts professionals, healthcare professionals, neurosurgeons, and the general public as the artistic team continued to work through the creative process. After many rewrites and sonic revisions, with the input of the medical professionals, the entire audio artwork was finished in December.
2015— Shannon secured another Arts & Disability Award Ireland grant, the Hatch residency continued, and Reassembled, Slightly Askew had its world premiere at the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival at the MAC. It sold out at CQAF, then headed out on a five-venue tour across Northern Ireland (courtesy of a partnership with Cedar Foundation and a grant from the Arts Council NI) to broaden not only an understanding of disability, but also what theatre can be — in a hospital bed with headphones. In addition to overwhelmingly positive responses from audiences, it secured at 5 star review in The Stage (written by Jane Coyle). It finished it’s NI tour in September at the Arts & Disability Forum’s BOUNCE! Festival at the Lyric Theatre.
Wellcome Trust funding finishes, as does Shannon’s Hatch residency, but she secured an Arts Council NI/British Council Artist International Development Fund award to build international networks for Reassembled… in New York, Boston/Cambridge, and DC.
The next steps for Reassembled… involve outlining the various performance models (conferences, medical training, contemporary art gallery settings, festival venues outside NI) and building the infrastructure to not only support its longevity as an artistic piece that has had great success, but also my longevity as an artist with a disability. A wonderful end (or new chapter?) to a harrowing experience that began more than 5 years ago.
focus groups of Neurosurgeons, nurses, health professionals, arts professionals, people who have disabilities.