Everything at No Strings starts in a workshop – the ignition point – where theatre experimentation and (dis)ability meet. “We present professional mentoring in a supportive environment, working in partnership with our artists to help them learn, grow, explore and reach their potential. Drama skills are life skills. As people find their voice and develop their craft, they grow in leadership and independence, which creates exciting new employment pathways,” Osborn said. “By letting ability shine through, we’re challenging expectations and educating societies to achieve true inclusion. “Our theatre showcases the power of diversity and acceptance.” Osborn said No Strings’ collaborative approach has resulted in multi-award-winning productions that have toured nationally and internationally to broad acclaim.
The cast and crew
No Strings currently operates with more than 50 participants over four weekly theatre-making workshops and two creative writing workshops. Each weekly workshop runs for 1.5 hours, during school terms. Some participants attend once a week and others go to three or more workshops weekly. Participants are all over 18 and up to 60+ years old. Some participants have been with the group since its beginning 27 years ago. According to Osborn, while working exclusively with people who live with disability might seem like a disadvantage to some its where its strength lies. “Our power comes from breaking the ‘fifth wall’ – tackling the barriers associated with disability. We entertain while we empower and celebrate ability while being committed to excellence and innovation.
“We are used to taking big creative risks. For example, during the pandemic a lot of major theatre companies were releasing their digital archives to keep their audiences entertained. But we were innovating new uses of Zoom, leveraging the digital platform and remote access to develop new performance possibilities and opening new ways of working, locally, nationally and internationally.
“We have an amazing team of teaching artists who focus on people’s abilities, finding and spotlighting what they can do, rather than what they can’t do. The team also undertakes regular consultations with all workshop participants, to find out their interests, abilities, and stories. If a participant identifies an area of interest, the team will do what it takes to make that vision come to life. All our productions are cocreated with our performers. They don’t get given a script they write the script. This is the most important part of what we do and what makes us different.
“One example of this was when one of our performers, who uses a wheelchair, told a teacher about their passion for dance and showed them a phone video of them dancing, out of their chair! The team now look for every opportunity for the participant to get out of their chair and dance!”
For the last 27 years No Strings has been nourishing and developing artists to create and present provocative and heart-warming theatre, with a collaborative and dynamic approach.
It creates new works that are all uniquely different. The Troupe workshop has singers and dancers, so their performances usually have a big musical component. The Studio workshop has seasoned and serious actors so their performances may explore stronger and more nuanced themes. The two Thursday workshops are relatively new, with performers who are still finding their own group style.
The theatre co-creates its own original productions, in collaboration with participants. The latest show ‘Ignition Point 21 – Out of the Box’ was about how participants felt during Covid, the lockdowns, being stuck in a box and then breaking free. It was chosen because participants in the Zoom classes were expressing the same feelings and ideas of being trapped ‘in a box’ so an entire show evolved out of their lived experiences during the pandemic. It was presented at the 2021 Adelaide Fringe Festival.
According to Osborn, while other organisations working in disability arts assimilate people living with disability, inviting them to participate in works devised by others, working alongside able-bodied performers, No Strings productions collaborate with performers living with a disability, co-creating new work together. “The more often professionally trained artists with a disability are able to work, the more often disability culture is authentically reflected on stage. No Strings encourages input from all participants in shaping the theatre skills workshop programs. We also support each participant to express their own personal areas of interest, and to explore and challenge capabilities, so that we can create award-winning theatre together.”
In the middle of the pandemic, in response to participant interest, it started its first-ever Creative Writing Workshop. This resulted in No Strings’ first-ever publication, an Anthology of Prose and Verse, penned by No Strings participants, that was launched at ReConnect! 2020, and dedicated to Helen Flinter-Leach.
The theatre uses social media to promote upcoming productions, as well as posters and flyers. Last year the creative development SAMESAME was performed concurrently online over Zoom as well as the Adelaide Festival Centre. Outside of productions, promoting the Theatre Making Workshops is usually by word of mouth. The theatre has long-term relationships with disability organisations and support services that work with its participants. Pre-Covid it would visit school and perform at disability expos.
Creative producer Kerry Ireland told Link she wanted to see more workshops, so this process of skill development and confidence building could become more accessible to more people. “The workshops really are the foundation of everything we do. It’s from the workshop program that ideas for future theatre works are developed and also provide the training ground and skills development process for all participants.
“We need to expand our teaching team to facilitate more workshop programs across the wider metropolitan area. Keep an eye out for our ‘open call’ for expressions of interest for both teaching artists to train with No Strings and for people living with disability to join a new workshop program. As with all our workshops, new programs will be open for everyone because we truly believe co-creation is the future of disability theatre. Everyone is welcome,” she said.
“As a registered NDIS provider, it means we meet government quality and safety requirements and support all participants to articulate their own goals and aspirations, then supporting them to develop skills and capacities.”
Comments from participants:
Michaela Cantwell, performer: “I was a professional actor on stage and film until in 2010, I suffered a stroke. This put a stop to my acting career for a year while I was learning to walk and talk again. After appearing in a film, I joined No Strings to restart my theatre career. Since joining I have toured to Singapore and South Korea for award winning productions such as I Forgot to Remember to Forget. I now work behind the scenes helping up-andcoming actors be the best they can be. My favourite thing about joining No Strings was constantly having a social connection. People should try out a workshop because its fun! And we produce great projects. Recently I worked on an international online inclusive creative development called SAME-SAME which was great fun but also very important work.”
Josh Campton: “Performing is ideal for me. It’s like expressing your own actions, movement and expressions”
June Turbin (mother of Damien Turbin, performer): “He can do things I never thought he could do and it’s all down to No Strings”. Kathryn Hall, performer: “I was 23 when I joined No Strings. I had been focussing on dancing but wanted something less body-focussed and to use my vocals more. This was mostly because of my disability (cerebral palsy). My energy levels can drain quickly, and I find it hard to keep my balance. One of my support coordinators suggested I get in touch with No Strings. I went along to a workshop and loved it! Being constantly challenged, trying new things and working hard. I like collaborating with different people and trying to push them creatively to get different ideas.
People should join because it’s a great creative outlet and gives you a chance to find your strengths, work on your weaknesses and figure out the best way you learn. You get to meet new people and collaborate in a team environment and make great theatre. It doesn’t get much better than that.”