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BBC Culture in Quarantine Commissions

Published: 13 May 2021

Louder is Not Always Clearer - Jonny Cotsen
Louder is Not Always Clearer - Jonny Cotsen

Two artists from Scotland are among twelve D/deaf, neurodivergent and disabled professional artists from across the UK to have been commissioned to produce new film and audio works for BBC platforms this summer.

The commissioning programme is part of BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative, which has brought the arts into people’s homes during lockdown. The twelve new commissions will champion the work of disabled artists by helping them produce work when some may have been self-isolating and provide a platform to explore their experiences of living through Covid-19.

Commissions from Scotland include Blind-sided, a radio comedy-drama of a day in the lockdown life of blind comedian Jamie MacDonald as he leaves the familiarity of his home in Glasgow; and AISLE by Ellen Renton and Jess Fig, a short film combining poetry and illustration exploring the disabled experience of going to the supermarket during the pandemic. Alongside a drama inspired by the work of award-winning journalist Frances Ryan, a short film from Deaf rapper Signkid, an adaptation of performance poet Alice McCullough’s one-woman show Earth to Alice, and theatre show Louder is Not Always Clearer by Deaf performer Jonny Cotsen.

The programme was established in a partnership between BBC Arts, Arts Council England, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Arts Council of Wales and Creative Scotland to mark the 25th anniversary of the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act into law, forming part of wider disability programming across the BBC.

Iain Munro, CEO, Creative Scotland commented: "Creative Scotland is thrilled to support this incredible range of talented artists and inspiring commissions as part of our partnership with BBC Arts and The Space, bringing the work of talented D/deaf, neurodivergent and disabled artists to BBC platforms. We celebrate the way diversity of thought and a diversity of experience feeds innovation and creativity and are delighted that thanks to National lottery players, audiences will enjoy and be inspired by the wide range of stories, perspectives and experiences supported through this initiative."

The film and audio works commissioned include performance dramas, dance, comedy, spoken word poetry and animation, with the majority of artists highlighting aspects of the disabled experience of living through the pandemic.

Commissions were selected by a panel including representatives from BBC Arts, Arts Council England, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Arts Council of Wales, Creative Scotland, Unlimited and the UK Disability Arts Alliance.

Lamia Dabboussy, BBC Head of Arts said: “This batch of commissions from artists across the country showcases the breadth of inspiring work we’ve all missed experiencing over this past lockdown year. I’m thrilled that, as part of Culture in Quarantine, these pieces will be brought to life across BBC platforms. It’s imperative that D/deaf, neurodivergent and disabled professional artists are supported to carry on making brilliant work, as the constraints and continuing effects of this pandemic threaten to silence their vital creative voice.”

The new commissions are:-

  • Blind-sided by Jamie MacDonald, Scotland. A comedy drama, portraying a day in the lockdown life of blind comedian Jamie MacDonald. As the pandemic hit, Jamie’s high-flying wife landed her dream job as a paediatric surgeon in Sheffield, leaving him little choice but to leave the familiarity of his home in Glasgow. In a strange new place, stripped of the job he worked so hard to define him, he’s had to come up with ways to fill his days and reassert the control he once had over his disability, in a world that’s out of control.
  • AISLE by Ellen Renton and Jess Fig, Scotland. A film combining poetry and illustration exploring the disabled experience of being in the world during the Covid-19 pandemic. Focused on the act of going to the supermarket, AISLE will open up a discussion about the ways in which disabled people have been forced to relinquish their independence during this time.
  • SILENT WORLD, a short music film by Deaf musician Signkid, using rap, spoken word and Signkid’s innovative ‘sign-slang’ to creatively explore how living in a silent world has intensified during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Hen Night, a short film by award winning theatre and screen writer/director Vici Wreford-Sinnott, inspired by the writing of award-winning journalist Frances Ryan. Jessica has just had her hen night - a last night of freedom but not in the ways she, or any of us, might have imagined.
  • Arising out of lockdown, Spectrum Sounds by Andrew Hugill, a collection of seven short pieces of music, associated with the colours of the autistic spectrum.
  • Face It, filmed comedy drama monologues by writer Miranda Walker about two women exploring how they feel about their faces in the modern swipe-right world, and the impact of wearing face masks to protect against Covid-19. Produced by Michaela Hennessy-Vass.
  • How to Thrive in 2050! 8 Tentacular Workouts for a Tantalising Future! Film by artist Kai Syng Tan. A call for action for a more creative, equitable and neuro-fantastic future by a ‘human-octopussy’.
  • Film adapted from her one-woman show Earth to Alice, written and performed by Belfast poet and stand-up comedian Alice McCullough, about navigating the twists and turns of bipolar disorder during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Pandemic Parenting: Pandemonium, dance theatre film by Irish playwright Shannon Yee, exploring the unique challenges for parents of newly born and young children during lockdown.
  • The Cat, The Mouse and The Sausage, an animation of a Grimm’s Brothers fairy tale by award-winning filmmaker Joel Simon.
  • Film adaptation of stage show Louder is Not Always Clearer, created by Mr and Mrs Clark and performed by Deaf artist Jonny Cotsen, an honest portrayal of the vulnerability of a Deaf man in a hearing world.
  • Complexity of Skin, a dance film co-directed, written, choreographed and performed by Matthew Gough and Krystal S. Lowe, exploring touch in periods of isolation and set in a flat during lockdown.

Each of the commissioned artists will be assigned an Executive Producer from digital support agency The Space, in partnership with Unlimited, an arts commissioning programme that enables new work by disabled artists to reach UK and international audiences. The Executive Producer will mentor and support the artists throughout production and delivery of their work to BBC platforms this summer.

These commissions build on the success of BBC Arts Culture in Quarantine artists’ commissioning strand, launched in April 2020 by BBC Arts and Arts Council England, which invited artists to give a creative response to the challenges of lockdown. A total of 25 commissions were produced, which achieved audiences in the millions across BBC and social platforms.

Background

About BBC Arts

The BBC is the biggest creator of Arts content and is Britain's creative partner – a stage for the nation to experience the very best arts - when they want, how they want.

  • The nation’s stage: access to arts and culture programming for all through the licence fee – we create and showcase more arts and culture than any other broadcaster
  • An Innovator: constantly finding new ways to bring the best quality culture to audiences - working with the Arts sector as partner and acting as a hot-house for new talent
  • Britain’s creative partner - a bold force in the UK creative sector as creator and commissioner, also a platform for new talent
  • An investor in quality - we only present the highest quality Arts and culture programming, crafted by skilled production teams and shared with all audiences

Bringing the nation together - like no other we create and amplify moments in Arts and culture, cutting through with a broad audience

About Culture In Quarantine

BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative is an essential arts and culture service across BBC platforms that will keep the arts alive in people’s homes, focused most intensely across BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4, BBC Two, BBC Four, BBC Sounds, BBC iPlayer and www.bbc.co.uk/bbcarts. We are doing this in close consultation and collaboration with organisations like Arts Council England and other national funding and producing bodies.

This arts and culture service includes:

  • Guides and access to shuttered exhibitions, performances or permanent collections in museums, galleries and performance spaces;
  • Ways to experience books with privileged access to authors including a collaboration with the Big Book Weekend amongst other initiatives.
  • Jewels from the archive as well as brand new content ensuring that brand new theatre and dance performances will join with modern classics to create a repertory theatre of broadcast.
  • Participatory offers including masterclasses and ways to enable audiences to create at home through Get Creative
  • Topical arts through Front Row, Front Row Late, Free Thinking and more
  • A fund with Arts Council England to support around 25 artists to create new work
  • A place for arts organisations to share innovations from quarantine and for audiences to discover new things through www.bbc.co.uk/arts

About disability on the BBC

The BBC is committed to commissioning content from d/Deaf, neurodivergent and disabled artists and creators, making our content accessible and providing a platform for authentic representation. Towards the end of last year CripTales, curated by Mat Fraser, broke boundaries with a series of films created and performed by disabled artists; filming began on the fifth series of The Break, a short form drama series which aims to showcase bold, original, contemporary stories that reflect modern life in the UK and this time featuring disabled talent as writers, directors and actors; and in the award-winning dance film Artificial Things, director Sophie Fiennes collaborated with choreographer Lucy Bennett to reimagine Stopgap Dance Company's stage production, featuring an ensemble of disabled and non-disabled dancers. All productions are currently on BBC iPlayer.

About Creative Scotland

Creative Scotland is the public body that supports the arts, screen and creative industries across all parts of Scotland on behalf of everyone who lives, works or visits here. We distribute funding provided by the Scottish Government and The National Lottery. Further information at creativescotland.com. Follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.