Community Voices: Jo Tolley – The magic of Stardust

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Jo Tolley is one of The Lincolnite’s first generation Community Voices columnists. She describes herself as a ‘curious curtain twitcher’ and a budding freelance writer. She believes that everyone has a right to have their voices heard. “It’s my life’s goal to make a real difference and show that people can achieve their dreams, regardless of their situation.” Jo has Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy and believes that the arts provide freedom and independence for all.

Disability means an unconventional lifestyle. It means not fitting into what people class as the ‘norm’. It means trying to find a way to cope with daily struggles within these restrictions. The arts embraces the unconventional. It welcomes those who aren’t classed as the ‘norm’. It provides an outlet for daily struggles without any restrictions. Disability and the arts are a match made in heaven.

The disabled community in Lincoln lives for the arts and they’re a huge part of the venues that provide them with the freedom to express themselves. When they’re on stage, the obstacles they face are removed. They can be whoever they want to be. When they get into character, whatever this may be, a world of new opportunities and experiences awaits.

One of the city’s amazing theatre groups is Stardust. In September 2017, parents of young people with additional needs recognised there was a gap in the market. They had seen the visible transformation in their children when they were performing, and they desperately wanted this to continue beyond school-leaving age. So, they took matters into their own hands.

With the help of the social enterprise charity Every-One, Sara Sprague and her team have spent the past two years building a community within a community. From Aladdin, to the Lion King, to Grease, Stardust have done it all. In the latest production, they took us down the Yellow Brick Road to Oz – and what fun we had. Unadulterated energy and joy filled The Venue at Bishop Grosseteste University as all the stars gave a showstopping performance.

The personality of each cast member shone through when they put their own twist on these classic characters. Lucy Baptist, playing the part of Dorothy, channelled her inner damsel in distress as she endeavoured to find her way back to Kansas. Whilst Nathan Storey, in the role of the Wizard, offered practical yet life-saving solutions to ensure everyone got back to where they belonged.

It goes without saying that whilst Lucy and Nathan took the lead roles, they cannot be singled out; the entire cast was phenomenal. The beauty of Stardust is that it incorporates disability into the performances. There’re people in wheelchairs, walking frames and with speech impediments on stage, and yet it’s all imperceptible.

Within society, disability is noticed, but within the group, their chemistry, positivity and creativity outweigh everything else. Unashamedly unhidden, the cast are aware of their strengths and limitations.

If they need help with learning lines or moving around on stage, then it’s there. Many of the cast members work as a team with their Personal Assistants to bring their characters to life which puts a spotlight on their talent. The abundance of love and laughter is palpable to the audience and the illustration of integration is a testament to the necessity of the arts for disabled people.

To find out more about Stardust, please visit their Facebook page.

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