Award-winning theatre company, Hijinx, took a group of learning disabled actors and staff to tour the landlocked country of Lesotho during February, with a performance project called Able to Act.
Four professional actors with Down’s Syndrome from Hijinx’s performance training Academies in Wales undertook the trip – Justin Melluish, Gareth Clark, Laura Tilley and Victoria Walters.
Victoria Walters, one of the Hijinx actors who took part in the project said: “I have a disability and the trip to Lesotho has taught me that it’s important to share it with people”.
They partnered with four local drama students from the Machabeng International College to create a totally new piece of theatre, which was initially developed in the Hijinx Academies across Wales.
One the local theatre students, who acted in the performance piece said: “I’ve learnt to be more compassionate and accepting of people with disabilities, there is such a need for this project to continue in Lesotho and also start in other countries too.”
World Down Syndrome Day on March 21, is a global awareness day which has been officially observed by the United Nations since 2012. This year World Down Syndrome Day (#WDSD18) theme is #WhatIBringToMyCommunity. It aims to show how people with Down’s syndrome can and do make meaningful contributions throughout their lives.
Through the Able to Act project, Hijinx have been able to actively show communities in Lesotho its four actors with Down’s Syndrome working alongside local theatre students to create a piece of creative physical theatre, adding to the creative culture of the community and highlighting how they can improve their inclusive practices.
This has been the key success to the project, measured in a testimonial from Mary Hlalele, who saw the performance in Machabeng, with the Senior Citizens Association of Lesotho:
“Inclusive theatre has taught us a great deal, about the value and beauty of diversity; you have taught us how to embrace differences with love, care and joy…. making our own lives more joyful and engulfed in love and beauty. Reflecting on this gift you have exposed us to, has required us to do some deep introspection into how we relate to others who we regard as ‘different’. You have taught us the meaning of true unity. As people we are already unified through breath, and as such, we therefore have no reason to embrace fear and anger; or to dwell on blame or judgement, when we notice differences in others.”
Performances were held across five locations throughout Lesotho, including the Mamohato Children’s Centre run by Sentebale – set up by Prince Seeiso and Prince Harry. Here the production was performed for staff from their disability department and the rest of the organisation who were undergoing disability awareness focus training.
Palesa Mphohle, Country Director for Sentebale said: “This was inclusion at it’s best. I’ve never seen such a wonderful performance as this before. It was really inspiring.”
With total audiences of over 2,000 people, ranging from church congregations and school children to the Senior Citizens Association of Lesotho, the impact the Hijinx Able to Act project had is not to be underestimated. Not simply through the performances, but also the drama workshops with learning disabled children at the orphanage, the four learning disabled actors building relationships with the local actors and also regularly going to the local shopping centre and cafes, visibly showing the local community people with learning disabilities doing everyday tasks.
Mamello Mokholokoe, who runs Phelisanong Orphanage, said: “All my life I have never watched an activity that has touched my life this way”.
The Able to Act project was made possible through funding from Welsh Government’s Wales for Africa programme through Hub Cymru Africa, the British Council, and in association with Machabeng International College and Dolen Cymru.