We’re now in the fourth week of our UK tour of Backstage In Biscuit Land, the stage show I’m taking to theatres across the country, and today we were in Grays, Essex.
Because I’m one of the 10% of people with Tourettes who have rude tics, and because the show contains some adult themes, we have a suggest age warning that goes out in advance to all venues. It recommends that the show is appropriate for people who are fourteen and over. Actually, we’ve had lots of younger children who’ve come with their families and I love having them with us, but I feel it’s important that they know what to expect.
This evening’s performance was one of the most surreal to date. It was also one of the most relaxed and interesting. I start each show off-stage, hiding (quietly!) in the wings.
So it wasn’t until I crawled onto the stage and got into my wheelchair that I saw quite how diverse our audience this evening was.
What I saw, in amongst our audience of non-disabled and disabled adults, was a group of twenty-five children, aged from about five to eleven. They were evidently part of a dance group, because many of them were dressed in matching purple uniforms. When I arrived on stage and saw their smiling faces I took a deep breath and then delivered my opening lines, but inside I was thinking: ‘Aggghhh! How on earth is this going to work?’
Chopin and I instinctively adjusted our performance style slightly so the children could follow and enjoy the show. But even so we could see that some adults were embarrassed during the rude bits. We end the show with a bawdy song, and lots of the children were ushered out at high speed during this finale by the grown ups they were with.
Despite all this I think many of the children got a lot out of the show. My tics did a whole section on duck farts which made everyone laugh a lot. There were some slightly unusual heckles – for example, a little girl of about six called out, ‘Stop saying biscuit!’ so I paused to explain why I couldn’t. During the show we play ‘I Spy’ and one boy kept calling out the answer after my tics had beaten him to it. When I called him out for cheating he buried his face in his t-shirt in embarrassment before doing exactly the same thing a moment later.
It was a fascinating show and it made us all realise that, with a bit of warning, we could easily adjust it and make it work for a much younger audience.
I’ve worked with children for years and feel that opportunities for them to experience difference are incredibly important. After tonight’s show I went out and met many of the children. They had lots of questions and I felt relieved by their warm response.
As it turned out, the venue hadn’t shared the age guidance in the way we had expected them to. As we’re keen to prevent similar surprises in the future, both for us and for families, we’ve checked to make sure that relevant information is properly displayed at every venue from now on. You’ve been warned!