Four professional actors with Down Syndrome – Justin Melluish, Gareth Clark, Laura Tilley and Victoria Walters – travelled nearly 9,000 miles across the globe to perform in small communities in Lesotho last month.
Award-winning theatre company, Hijinx, took a group of learning disabled actors and staff to tour the landlocked country of Lesotho from 10-25 of February, with a performance project called Able to Act.
Victoria said: “I have a disability and the trip to Lesotho has taught me that it’s important to share it with people”.
They worked with four local drama students from the Machabeng International College to create a totally new piece of theatre, which was initially developed in the Hijinx Academies across Wales.
One the local theatre students, who acted in the performance piece said: “I’ve learnt to be more compassionate and accepting of people with disabilities, there is such a need for this project to continue in Lesotho and also start in other countries too.”
Able to Act has had a big impact on audiences. Mary Hlalele, who saw the performance in Machabeng, with the Senior Citizens Association of Lesotho:
“Inclusive theatre has taught us a great deal, about the value and beauty of diversity; you have taught us how to embrace differences with love, care and joy…. making our own lives more joyful and engulfed in love and beauty. Reflecting on this gift you have exposed us to, has required us to do some deep introspection into how we relate to others who we regard as ‘different’. You have taught us the meaning of true unity. As people we are already unified through breath, and as such, we therefore have no reason to embrace fear and anger; or to dwell on blame or judgement, when we notice differences in others.”
Performances were held across five locations throughout Lesotho, including the Mamohato Children’s Centre run by Sentebale – set up by Prince Seeiso and Prince Harry. Here the production was performed for staff from their disability department and the rest of the organisation who were undergoing disability awareness focus training.
Palesa Mphohle, Country Director for Sentebale said: “This was inclusion at it’s best. I’ve never seen such a wonderful performance as this before. It was really inspiring.”
Over 2,000 people saw Justin, Gareth, Laura and Victoria and their team mates in Able To Act. Audiences ranged from church congregations and school children to the Senior Citizens Association of Lesotho. They were also involved in drama workshops with learning disabled children at the orphanage. By simply being there, in the community, doing everyday activities the four young people will, no doubt, have made a big impact.
Get a taste of what the trip was like by watching the team’s daily vlogs…you can watch them all here.
Mamello Mokholokoe, who runs Phelisanong Orphanage, said: “All my life I have never watched an activity that has touched my life this way”.
The Able to Act project was made possible through funding from Welsh Government’s Wales for Africa programme through Hub Cymru Africa, the British Council, and in association with Machabeng International College and Dolen Cymru.