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Crawley mum & national celebrity launch campaign that really will change lives

If ever there was a good news story then it is certainly this one.

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Maria Cook, her son Ryan and Jason Gardiner at the launch of Relaxed Performance

Maria Cook who is co-founder and chair of Autism Support Crawley has teamed up with choreographer, actor, singer and ITV judge Jason Gardiner to launch one of the most powerful campaigns for British theatre.

“Make no mistake this is a revolution”

Relaxed performances are exactly what they sound like, a performance of a show, be it a musical or a play or even a panto, that has slight alterations to it that allow people with autism or learning disabilities to be able to enjoy the show without the worry of loud noises or surprises whilst also allowing them to be themselves by walking around or by making noises.

Make no mistake this is a revolution and one that, shockingly, is only now getting the traction and publicity it deserves.

Mental illness is so frequently mentioned in the news these days. Be it through new charities or campaigns to get more funding into research. But people forget that even those with a disability still want to live, they still want to enjoy life, to have fun and theatre should be one of those avenues open to them.

And yet for many it’s not.

Now Maria and Jason have teamed up and are so passionate about their campaign that you cannot help but want to surge them on to success with every ounce of your body.

I have chosen to do this because i think it is so vitally important that it happens.” – Jason Gardiner

But both know the journey ahead of them is long and there is a large amount of work for them to do.

We asked Jason how he got involved:

“I was performing in a panto which was a relaxed performance and I had never heard about one before. The company sat me down and they explained how the show would be modified and any loud noises and pyrotechnics were eliminated but also the kids would be allowed to get up and do whatever they wanted to do and just be themselves.

Taking part in it was so special because we could see and feel the joy that was coming from these children and their families. For some it was the first time they had ever gone to the theatre.

The moment that changed Jason’s world when he met Ryan.

When we did the meet and greet after and i met Maria and her wonderful son Ryan, it was that moment that galvanized my call to action where I thought ok something has to happen here because why are there not more relaxed performances.”

That very moment changed both Jason and Maria’s life.

It is impossible to portray the true passion that comes across when Jason talks about the campaign. It is a true passion, nothing fake about it. This is not some bandwagon for a celebrity to jump on, this is a real cause and a real campaign and one he is determined to see through and that comes across when questioned about how the public may view his involvement:

“I don’t care what the public think, i never have, im not one of those celebrities who thinks about his image. I have chosen to do this because I think it is so vitally important that it happens. What I am mostly interested in here is getting results and that I can sit down with the right people who I know can implement these relaxed performances.”

Part of his passion may be coming from Maria though. Her campaigning is almost legendary in Crawley and must rub off on anyone she works with.

“We know there are relaxed performances out there,” says Maria, “but we know there are not enough and not promoted. throughout our campaign we have been building a database of where there are relaxed performances and where they are not.

But we are also getting a lot of people saying that they didn’t know there were relaxed performances out there. We want to be able to showcase these theatres and performances so more people can access them.

We know families who accessed the theatre for the very first time this year because they knew it was going to be an inclusive and understanding environment and that nothing mattered. That the children and adults (because there are so many adults with learning difficulties) could get up and makes noises and that it didn’t matter.”

“So many people are missing out from seeing these performances simply because they are not publicised.” adds Jason.

So their campaign is launched and the daunting task that awaits them must be fraught with stress but also the realisation of just what they have started and how many people it will help may only now just be beginning to hit home.

Allowing audience members to be able to get up and move around during a performance is just one vital element of a relaxed performance.

“The amount of outpouring on social media has been overwhelming.” says Jason, “Sometimes I have to put it down I just find myself crying, because we hear about so many people who feel so isolated and cut off from society and community who love theatre, who love singing and dancing and yet they don’t feel they are able to enjoy and join in.

There is a lot of education that we have to do with our campaign including within the autistic community who many didn’t know anything about relaxed performances.

“We have three years of experience here at the Hawth, and all we have to do is collate that information and roll it out. We know the producers and theatre companies aren’t going to do this themselves so we have to go to them and make it super easy for them with a manual and examples of how it works.”

But be under no impression that things are going to change overnight. Having some PR and celebrities sharing selfies in branded t-shirts will not be enough and they know that.

Take the West End for example as Jason points out:

“The Lion King do one relaxed performance a year, this is Disney with lots of money, why only one a year?

I want to sit down with MP’s and with ministers for the arts and find out why they are not supporting things like this and I think they will once we have got past Brexit.”

It is all too easy to look at campaigns like this as just another small cog in a much bigger wheel that will be a ‘nice have’ as opposed to a ‘must have’ but think about it. Life is about living, it’s about love and fun and sharing and this may only be one small way to add to that but to those who have never been able to experience theatre and the sheer joy it can bring it really, hand on heart, is going to be a life changing experience.

You can show your support and help by following their twitter account @RlxdPerformance, their Instagram @relaxedperformance and their Facebook page Relaxed Performance.

Lifestyle

Aged 9-15? Auditions announced for this years panto at The Hawth

The Hawth, in partnership with Evolution Productions are looking for girls to be part of the Juvenile Ensemble for their spectacular pantomime, DICK WHITTINGTON this Christmas!

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Registration will take place at 10am on Saturday 22 June 2019 at The Hawth.

To audition you must be between the ages 9–15 (inclusive) on 1 September 2019 and be under 5’ 2”.

Producers say that auditions will end approximately 2 hours after the start time but you may need to stay longer if you are successful.

You don’t need to prepare anything – you’ll be taught a routine on the day. They ask you come wearing comfortable clothes and soft/dance shoes and advise that you bring some water, but no other food or drink.

They added, “Pantomime is a huge team effort, and we will require full commitment for the rehearsal period and the full run of the production (Monday 25 November 2019 – Sunday 5 January 2020).”

Click here to download an audition registration form.

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