My Inspiration: Vici Wreford-Sinnott – Hen Night | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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North-East writer and director Vici Wreford-Sinnott has been a leading figure in the UK disability arts movement for many years. Her work for stage and screen focuses on disabled characters leading their own stories, enabling the audience to develop their understanding of the experiences of disabled people. 

Vici’s latest work is Hen Night, a solo piece inspired by the book Crippled by Frances Ryan and it’s one of the first ever pieces of British broadcasting created by a disabled women-led team. It stars Nicola Chegwin as the young and fiercely independent Jessica who comes home from her Hen Night to find her life turned upside down by cuts to services. It was created for BBC’s Culture in Quarantine season and has been on BBC iPlayer since 2nd September and is now available via YouTube.

Here, Vici tells us about what inspired this piece…

I’ve been creating new disabled characters on stage for a very long time – I’m passionate about telling stories which just don’t get told. It’s also really important to me that we challenge the negative narrative around disability as either a pitiable tragedy, or something sinister to fear. I’m proud to have come from the world of early punk, where big questions were asked of the status quo and where everyone was accepted regardless of difference. That punk spirit remains with me all these years later as an artist who asks big questions. We’re an allegedly civil society, one of the richest countries in the world and so it’s just not acceptable to have the UN describing disabled peoples’ treatment in the UK a ‘human catastrophe’. And that it all happens in plain sight. Remember, disabled people are our mums, dads, brothers, sisters, our kids even. People we love and respect. Disabled people are people. Not deficit models, but fully rounded individuals with lives. It is baffling just how there has been such a huge misunderstanding and misrepresentation of a massive proportion of the community for so long, but there has been and it makes us second class citizens. 

When the pandemic hit, the new language introduced rang alarm bells for disabled people all over the country, and if you’re not disabled you might not understand it, but using phrases like ‘underlying health conditions’ means that it was accepted that some people will inevitably not make it. The key thing here being that we were thought of as expendable. Sadly this is largely proved to be the case as two thirds of people who’ve died have been disabled – not inevitable deaths – unnecessary deaths. As an artist writing about social justice, I have traditionally worked in live theatre settings but once that wasn’t possible with lockdown, I knew I was going to have to reach for any means necessary to continue telling stories, keep my community visible and our profile up. And I’ve been lucky enough to have been commissioned to make five short films during that time, one of which is Hen Night for BBC Arts’ Culture In Quarantine. It’s been a game changer – working with groups of disabled people who were all shielding to make films which shine a light on our situation and clearly show our humanity, our complex personalities and that we have lives worth living! It felt like we were a group of underground subversives at times, we gained strength from each other, but we also want our work to reach the broadest possible audiences so we have avoided making niche work.

Because the work is about human beings, it’s funny, intriguing, tense, powerful and moving – and just like any artist making work, it’s always the art first. I want it to be beautiful and engaging, and for people not to have felt hit over the head with anything, but to have found it thought provoking. I hope we’ve done that with Hen Night – certainly our actor Nicola Chegwin has brought the character and story to life which is a wonderful experience when it is something which has largely existed in a notebook and your head until the moment it is in an actor’s hands.  I spoke to a lovely BBC radio DJ the other day and he said to me – ‘your work has changed the way I think about disability and disabled people’. And I could have cried. That’s what you want as an artist isn’t it. To bring about change. And I’m proud to be part of a Disability Arts movement of artists who are doing that everyday – their passion, their belief and their fight for change drives me onwards to make the best work I can make, which will hopefully contribute to changing the way we think about disability as a society.

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