Birds of Paradise (BOP) is Scotland’s first disability-led touring theatre company employing disabled and non-disabled actors.
Over nearly three decades of existence, the company has established itself as key player in the disability arts scene in the UK, extensively recognised for commissioning and producing outstanding new work, creating positive images of inclusion and encouraging participation in the arts.
BOP’s widespread reputation at home and abroad resulted in a recent invitation from Instituto Tomie Ohtake in Brazil, to participate in the 6th International Congress on Education and Accessibility in Museums and Galleries. The gathering took place in São Paulo, from 27 - 30 November 2019 and BOP’s participation was enabled by the British Council/Creative Scotland Partnership.
A delegation of three from BOP, composed of Michelle Rolfe (Producer), Mairi Taylor (Executive Producer) and Callum Madge (Engagement & Office Manager), joined representatives from museums and galleries from countries all over the world, including France, Mexico, Spain, Japan.
The Scottish group were able to share their expertise by delivering a 30-minute presentation looking at Participation and Representation of People with Disabilities, held at Itaú Cultural.
The delegation also presented a three-hour workshop to an audience of 38 people at Instituto Tomie Ohtake, focussing on actions cultural organisations and artists can take to make their organisations more accessible to working with disabled people.
In addition to the opportunities to impart their arts and disability proficiency, the BOP delegation experienced a truly mutual journey forging new working relationships within the Brazilian accessible arts sector including theatre company O Grão and The Memorial da Resistência museum.
Collaborating with Tomie Ohtakie Institute and British Council Brazil on the visit, also allowed BOP to cement those relationships. ‘We are planning to talk to Tomie Ohtakie about translating the presentation and some of our toolkits so that these can be circulated and used by Brazilian companies’ (Birds of Paradise, February 2020).
For the Scottish theatre company, this opportunity also further reinforced the team’s own confidence and ability to successfully deliver on one of its strategic key areas of action (BOP Strategic).
‘We continue to increase our capacity as a company to deliver training, consultation and advocacy activity internationally by delivering across the staff team to broaden everyone’s skill base. We are no longer reliant on only one or two team members being able to work at this level, which means we are able to respond to requests for work that generate income more readily while also ensuring the core activity of the company, making theatre, is safeguarded.’ (Birds of Paradise, February 2020).
A bilingual video-documentation of the workshop moderated by the BOP team has recently been released by Instituto Tomie Ohtakie as part of their web series Corpos Divergentes (Divergent Bodies). In it, Michelle Rolfe and Brazilian actress/educator Mariana Ayelen expand on the themes of how bodies can interact with different sensorial and physical stimuli.
The video gains more relevance under the current covid-19 context, where we celebrated International Museums Day digitally (18 May) under the banner “Museums for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion”; at the same time that the #WeShallNotBeRemoved campaign is being launched, creating a forum to advocate, campaign and support UK-based D/deaf, neurodiverse and disabled creative practitioners and organisations through and after COVID.