NEWS: Learning disabled theatre group in first live public performance

In February 2020, Glasgow based theatre company The Occasion established The Southside Group (TSG), an exciting initiative designed to provide adults with learning disabilities the opportunity to get involved in theatre. A month later, the country was plunged into lockdown and over the last two and a half years, TSG have created several online works. Finally, this December, they will perform live to a public audience for the first time with their production of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen.

Established by The Occasion’s Co-Artistic Directors, Peter Clerke and Catherine Gillard,

The Southside Group is a company of 14 individuals aged 20 to 60 with learning disabilities who meet weekly in Glasgow’s Southside. Some are experienced performers, some are beginners, but all contribute enormously to the work of the group, challenging perceptions and showing audiences what they can do.

“We formed The Southside Group to give learning disabled adults the opportunity to get involved in theatre to build social skills, self-esteem and confidence through working together. The group aims to represent people in terms of ability rather than disability, and help participants find their voice.”

“At the start of the pandemic all work shifted on-line and we ran one-hour, weekly sessions over Zoom. For the group, the on-line sessions provided an opportunity to strengthen friendships and to remain connected to each other while, at the same time, developing new skills and creating a number of online productions.”

One participant’s mother said:

“My daughter has limited speech, poor mobility and a very short attention span. We are just amazed at how she has progressed since being part of this group. She started needing her sister to do everything, but her fellow group members have rallied round and helped. Her confidence has grown so much. She is always taken very seriously and treated with respect. We are forever grateful to the time and effort the organisers put into this. Over the last two years we don’t know what we would have done without it.”

After working together for so long online, The Southside Group are looking forward to their first live, public performance. A story of the struggle between good and evil, of magic and love, and of change, TSG will bring Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen vibrantly to life on Thursday 1st and Friday 2nd December at Queen’s Park Govanhill Parish Church in Glasgow.

The group’s unique interpretation of Andersen’s epic story follows Gerda on her journey to save her friend, Kai, from the ice-cold embrace of The Snow Queen. Featuring ice-skating, robbers, a woman who understands a little of magic, a street-wise raven, a talking reindeer and some strange advice, The Snow Queen is a charming winter delight for the whole family.

When asked how he was feeling about performing The Snow Queen, group member Jordan said:

“I’m very excited to do a new drama show with The Southside Group, this will be my first one. On the night I think I’ll be excited but maybe a bit nervous. If we all put the work in and make it as good as we can everyone will enjoy it.”  

To purchase tickets for The Snow Queen and for more information on The Occasion and The Southside Group, visit https://theoccasiontheatre.com/.

Image: Stewart Ennis