VizAbility shadow puppet show at Westgate Chapel

A few months ago at Lewes Community Allotment, when the group from St Nicholas Day Centre were looking at the floppy, frosted leaves, they commented to Allotment Coordinator Sarah that they thought the leaves looked "like puppets" as they moved them, and the group playfully made the leaves 'speak'. As a consequence of that, sessional worker Felicity Ann and I found wildlife finger puppets as little Christmas gifts for the group. And, having done an interview in January 2018 for Viva Lewes magazine with Hannah, who runs the VizAbility drama group at Westgate Chapel Lewes, part of the Oyster Project. I asked Hannah if VizAbility could put on a performance on their new shadow puppet play Birds Nest for the St Nicks group. She kindly agreed.

So, on a particularly bitter February morning, instead of meeting at the allotment, we met at the Westgate Chapel.

VizAbility is a group which meets every Wednesday morning at Westgate. The group come up with ideas for plays, and once they've decided what they want to do, they then create their own costumes, decide on what music they'd like, and do lots of rehearsing. Then, when they're ready, they perform for different community groups in Lewes, who might not otherwise be able to see many shows. Day centres, for example. At Christmas, VizAbility put on a performance of The Infant King It's a lot of work, but they enjoy it, they told us.

Hannah, with help from Lucy, leads the group and they all come up with ideas, then decide how to turn those ideas into a shadow puppet play.

The play they were performing for us was called Birds Nest after a Chinese proverb:  “That the birds of worry and care fly over you head, this you cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent." 

We all sat down, then the performance began with music and some actors doing shadow puppet work inside a blue tent, using lighting to create the shadows.  There was a clever way of showing words for the worries we sometimes feel - panic, paranoia, worry, fear. Then, someone came to help "take the worries away", hold the person's hand and bring more positive, calming words.

The costumes were great, and all the different clips of music that went with the play were really powerful. We enjoyed the dance, the music, the drama and the costumes. Everyone had clearly worked very hard.

After the performance, they kindly shared some delicious food and drink with us. 

Then we watched some films that the Oyster Project have made over the years.  First of all we saw Time slip, Journey of the Coin, with actor Sarah Gordy, which won the 2013 OSKA Bright International Film Festival (Carousel).  This looked at historical attitudes people with learning disabilities have had to face, and it did this by going back in time. John Russell of Oyster recorded and edited it. The film had a powerful and challenging message and conveyed it very effectively. We discussed this afterwards, and how it has taken people challenging those attitudes to bring about change.

We also watched a shadow puppet film based on Mary Shelley's dreams. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.  She once visited Lewes and went to see Dr Russell about her strange dreams. He recommended she bathe in the moonlight sea, and she ended up having happy dreams!  

Finally, we saw a film called Love and Peace, set in Newcastle.

Then we all had a chat. For their next project - the group told us that they would like to help doctors learn how to communicate better with disabled people. We thought that was a brilliant idea.

They hope to perform A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2018 too.

We thanked them so much for the warm welcome and a really interesting morning for all of us.

Emma Chaplin. Flourish project manager Feb 2018