‘Reassembled, Slightly Askew’ in London at Battersea Arts Centre

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(image by Richard Lavery/Tickle Here)

Reassembled… is off to an amazing start to its 3 week run at Battersea Arts Centre as part of their ‘A Nation’s Theatre Festival’, in which it is the only NI show to be invited to participate. It’s been in the very capable hands of NI actors, Stephen Beggs & Mary Lindsay:

Mary STephen out front

Coverage so far includes various London-based publications:

Time Out

listed as one of Time Out London’s ‘Hottest Theatre Openings’

The Arts Council NI’s website, a fantastic 4-star review from Lyn Gardner in The Guardian, a heartfelt blog post from Webcowgirl, and post-show feedback from audiences:

“If you see just one production in London this year, it should be this.”

“Profound evening…a real must-see!”

“Wow, what a thought-provoking 90 minutes, a slick and rounded arts experience.”

“Amazing… [I was] touched and impressed.”

“It is moving, beautiful, fragile and deeply important. Thank you.”

“Best binaural piece I’ve seen this year so far (you’re the 4th). “

“I felt more exposed than ever.”

“Such a deeply moving experience.”

 

With the show running until 28 May, there’s more feedback and reviews to come…

‘Reassembled…’ comes to London this May ’16

ANT RSA screenshotThanks to Reassembled…‘s director Anna Newell (2016 Ellen Stewart International Award Finalist for Artists and Theatre Companies Doing Socially Engaged Work with Youth), Reassembled… has been invited to be part of Battersea Arts Centre’s ‘A Nation’s Theatre Festival’ this Spring, 11-28 May.

A Nation’s Theatre Festival is a two-month celebration of theatre from around the UK from April – May 2016.  There are over 60 shows and events in the festival, across 17 London venues, performed by more than 350 artists from outside London. Reassembled… is the only production from Northern Ireland that is participating.

“It is A CELEBRATION of the UK theatre ecology, shining a light on the breadth of innovative theatre and ideas produced by companies, artists and theatres from around the nation. It’s an opportunity for London audiences and theatres to experience, recognise and champion work from around the UK. It is A PROVOCATION to encourage conversations and debate:

  • How can we reverse the flow of theatre from London out to the rest of the UK?
  • How do we encourage more arts provision outside of the capital?
  • What can theatre tell us about politics, devolution and identity?”

Tickets are available at www.bac.org.             BAC logo

Research, development and funding (2013-2015) was made possible by:

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Focus Group Feedback

On 23 May 2014, a cross-section of individuals from the biomedical/health & social care, arts, community/voluntary sector (brain injury support) organizations attended came to The MAC (Belfast) and participated in a one-hour focus group session in which they heard two sections of a draft of Reassembled…Slightly Askew.

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From General Public–

This was a powerful and enlightening piece of work. I felt frightened and nauseous in equal measure. It enabled me to empathise with Shannon and her trauma in a comparatively very short amount of time.

 

The audio engineering was great. You felt abstracted within the environment. The sound moved you through different realms. The voice brought you back to a place of consciousness.

It made me consciously aware of how good health care in NI is.

It was a spiritual, otherworldly experience.

Having worked in Brain Injury Services, I have some knowledge on how an ABI can impact on an individual, however, to experience it in this way was very insightful and has helped in my learning and understanding.

IMG_5457The technology could also be used to communicate how other hard to understand ailments feel to the sufferer—eg. Dementia/Alzheimers, Autism—so could have a very powerful social impact.

Trying to process what’s going on made me think about how my brain works.

I’d love to see it as a permanent installation in a hospital, a requirement in training.

 

 

 

From Neurosurgeons–

IMG_5453I was under the impression that empathy could not be taught, but this experience has demonstrated otherwise.

The hospital system doesn’t allow us to understand what that person’s going through. [They are] a disease entity we’re treating. We forget the humanity underneath.

I thought this was going to be something ‘arty-farty’. I had no idea it would affect me so profoundly and viscerally.

It allows you to have the patient experience without being paralyzed with fear…valuable as we are shifting to a patient-centred servic.

 A unique experience that every neurosurgeon would have to experience.

The neurosurgeons also shared that the focus group setting provided the first time they were able to chat with fellow neurosurgeons about their experiences in this way. The experience allowed them to discuss their practice, coping mechanisms and the process of going through parts of the patient journey via Reassembled, Slightly Askew prompted them to unexpected self-analysis, self-reflection and a place of consciousness of their professional competencies.

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No longer a ‘recovery’ but a ‘reassemblage’

For a few months now, I’ve been contemplating how fitting Recovery is as a title, nearly 4 years on from the project’s initial conception. I always described the project as Recovery: my process of being disassembled and reassembled, slightly askew, particularly for the numerous funding applications I’ve written over the years to secure support for the project.

Similar to the actual artwork, all those years ago none of the artists involved knew what was ahead.  I certainly didn’t know what my process of pulling myself and my life together would be like, nor did the neurosurgeon, nurses, occupational therapist, neuropsychologist, physiotherapists, or my GP.

I now think that Reassembled, Slightly Askew captures main trajectory of the piece more accurately. That titles gives space for the fact that I now have a disability, which I must manage and won’t recover from. ‘Recovery’ is a word that originates from a medical model, and does not acknowledge the reality of disability, particularly a hidden one of an acquired brain injury. There are some aspects of my brain injury I may never ‘recover’ from; this is itself a personal journey that has not been an easy one to acknowledge and own (¡Viva la siesta!). I am, most definitely, reassembled, and most definitely, ‘slightly askew’. The place I was at before Mr. McConnell opened my head is not a place I can ever recover and return to.

This renaming, or clarifying, is timely, as Paul (sonic composer and sound designer) has recently finished the first full draft of the entire piece after months of development and reworking with the artistic team, guidance and feedback from the biomedical advisors, and recording with professional actors in the Sonic Lab at SARC (Queens University). It’s an exciting benchmark which propels us forward towards the 2015 tour.

Neuro-experts in the Sonic Lab (Queens University, Belfast)

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Neuro-experts in the Sonic Lab (Queens University, Belfast)

RS McConnell (Consultant Neurosurgeon) and Colin Williamson (Head Injury Liaison Nurse) from the Royal Victoria Hospital Belfast experience a brief introduction to psychoacoustics (how the brain perceives sound) by Dr Paul Stapleton in the Sonic Lab at Queens. The Sonic Lab has the unique capability of sending sound 360 degrees around the room. Paul led Mr McConnell and Colin through an exercise where they had to pinpoint where the sound was coming from, highlighting the perceptual restrictions we have when locating sound when our eyes are closed.

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Superbowl Sunday, sports & Brain Trauma

Superbowl Sunday was yesterday. The Six Nations Rugby tournament also began this weekend. Micheal Schumacher, former F1 champion race car driver, remains in a coma from a skiing accident in December. Channel 4 is approaching its finale of The Jump, a TV show in honor of the Winter Olympics where celebrities compete in a range of winter sports, including the bobsled which caused one contestant such a bad head injury that she had to pull out of the competition.

Brain injury is everywhere, and not just because I have one. According to brain injury charity, Headway, brain injury is the biggest cause of disability globally.

In her recent NPR article, Sidelined By Brain Injury, Ex-NFL Player Copes With ‘Desperation’, author Melissa Block states, “Hundreds of other NFL players have been diagnosed with far more serious conditions: dementia, ALS, Parkinson’s and severe cognitive decline.” This NY Times article from December 2012, contains images of athletes’ brains and shows how repeated concussions and brain trauma affects the brain tissue.

I had a ‘bad brain day’ the other day. It took me by surprise because I hadn’t had one this bad in a while. It was one of those that cut me and my ambitions back down to size where I woke up nearly more exhausted than when I went to bed the night before, where I couldn’t get started on any activity because I couldn’t figure out (or maintain concentration to figure out) the best way to start, continue, and complete an activity, where I couldn’t find my words and when I did, I couldn’t articulate a train of thought in a linear fashion. The apartment was littered with my half-started, distracted and abandoned good intentions. No amount of scheduling or to-do-listing would pull me out of it. Eventually, I had to surrender my ego  and succumb to the fuzziness. It’s not easy in a world where your worth is silently measured in activity and productivity, and ‘I’m so tired!‘ is proclaimed like a vocational medal rather than the non-negotiable reality of a brain injury survivor’s utter fatigue. Though my initial brain trauma was 5 years ago and I’m tremendously lucky to have made progress, the most exciting of which is the Wellcome Trust Small Arts Award to make a sonic-arts-based artwork that brings audiences inside my head, these bad brain days remind me that I’m not, and may never be, fully ‘recovered’. At best, I am reassembled, slightly askew.

I am far from the only individual living with an acquired brain injury, but in the middle of a fuzzy, bad brain day, looking completely capable from the outside, it certainly doesn’t feel like it.

‘BLISS: Afloat on a sea of dreams’ for students with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD)

It’s been quite tricky to explain to people what the project I had the pleasure of being involved in with Replay Productions over the past few months has been. In true Anna-Newell-style, it’s quasi-many things, and you can’t fully understand it without experiencing it yourself.

Fortunately, Replay has just released its video documentary about the project, BLISS:


I certainly never thought that my own personal experiences with sensory overload and cognitive processing difficulties (and the anxiety and frustration that accompany such experiences) would be a valuable asset in the work I do; as the writer on this project, writing for an audience with cognitive and sensory difficulties, it was. For example, feedback from the teachers in the special schools we visited consistently highlighted how they were surprised by the moments of silences built into the theatrical journey, and how “we never do silence.” Yet, silences, an absence of external stimulation, is essential when you’re trying to make sense of the world around you and then act upon it. Silences are much more vital to my ability to function now than before my acquired brain injury.

I am intensely proud of this project, the creative team involved, and honored to have been included in it.