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Opening eyes and minds

In the first of a series of vignettes, a man makes advances to a woman in a red dress. Nothing strange in that, but the man's lasciviousness is expressed in his suggestive stroking of her wheelchair.

Fingers snap and a new scene features the red-dressed woman in the wheelchair drinking a Coke. Two men come up, drop coins in her can and pat her on her head.

Next a disabled man amuses himself with a good-natured police officer. He drops his pack of cigarettes and watches the officer pick it up and hand it back to him with a smile, only to drop it again and play the whole thing all over. Finally, another policeman comes up and makes a threatening gesture.

These scenes and others form the introduction to Graeae Theatre's Playback 2 U, an interactive production for tertiary students and youth groups. Graeae has spent the last 15 years establishing itself as Europe's leading theatre company of disabled people, touring the country and challenging audiences' prejudices and preconceptions.

This piece, a development of last year's touring schools' programme, Playback, is a dynamic illustration of the professional depth of Graeae's education work. The structures and methodologies are familiar to theatre in education, even if the territory is not.

After ice-breaking exercises (including moving around the room as a pineapple, melon or passion fruit and having others guess what you are), the group has to choose by consensus one of a half dozen scenarios to focus on.

Once chosen, the whole scene is played through and then, for the next hour and a half, is analysed, discussed, taken over by the participants themselves.

A scene involving Alan, a "naughty" disabled boy sent off to a remote and brutally run special school, was picked apart and remoulded by the participants. Why was Alan behaving in the way that he was? What were the professionals' motivations? Was there some way of breaking down the barriers he had built around him?

The brief of the workshop, as well as working through the usual dilemmas and conflicts, was to get under the skin, if only the first few layers, of what it is like to be disabled in our society. Anyone whose eyes and minds are not opened in these two hours has more serious problems than not being able to walk or hear.

Playback 2 U runs until the end of term and starts again after Easter. Contact Graeae Theatre, 0171-267 1959.

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