GUEST POST, by Joanne Roughton-Arnold

I am a member of the Nystagmus Network. I have ocular albinism with subsequent congenital nystagmus.

I am a professional opera singer. Inspired by my recent work singing with the British Paraorchestra, I have started a new opera company formidAbility out of a passionate belief that this extraordinary art form can touch so many more people if we better reflect the diversity of our audiences on stage. formidAbility is a healthy mix of disabled and non-disabled artists creating high calibre work, breaking down barriers and challenging perceptions of disability and inclusion in the arts.

We are putting accessibility at the heart of the creative process, giving it artistic value of its own and making it something that enhances the performance for all audiences members. We are all about bringing people together and losing any sense of division between disabled and non-disabled audiences and artists.

We’re thrilled to be bringing our first production to the 2019 Grimeborn Festival at London’s Arcola Theatre, integrating opera with Signdance and the Rationale Method of audio description for the first time. 
Tickets are available here.

Please read our full press release below. The rehearsal photo is of me at work with David Bower of Signdance Collective International. David is a fabulous actor who happens to be deaf – he will be well known to fans of the cult film Four Weddings And A Funeral, from his role as David.

Very best wishes,
Joanne Roughton-Arnold

formidAbility presents Hotspur|Pierrot Lunaire

An exciting inclusion in the 2019 Grimeborn Festival, this double bill of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Gillian Whitehead’s Hotspur promises to be a treat for the senses in more ways than one. Pierrot is the wandering, painted-face clown seeking poetic inspiration in a prism of moonlight and yearning for the beautiful Colombine. Expressionistic and darkly comic with hints of cabaret, Schoenberg’s 1912 iconic melodrama for voice and five instrumentalists is one of the most influential musical works of the twentieth century. In this performance, it will follow a new staging of the dramatic Hotspur, the opera that marked the beginning of a prolific collaboration between revered NZ composer Gillian Whitehead and librettist Fleur Adcock. In contrast to Pierrot’s timeless abstraction, Hotspur tells the tale of the 14th century Northumbrian hero, Henry “Hotspur” Percy, through the eyes of his recently widowed wife. Elizabeth Mortimer, labelled “a most dangerous widow”, featured with her husband in Shakespeare’s Richard II and Henry IV Part I. The performance is produced by formidAbility, a newcomer to the British opera scene, who are breaking new ground in accessibility and inclusion for those with disabilities, both onstage and off. Co-founder Joanne Roughton-Arnold, who also sings in both operas, is already known to London audiences from her work with Opera Holland Park, and her one-woman commission for Grimeborn in 2016, Iris Dreaming. Originally from NZ and with a background as a professional violinist, to label Roughton-Arnold as exciting is an understatement. She single-handedly commissions, produces, fundraises and sings projects of astonishing emotion and vision. With a mass of wild copper curls and an arresting belly laugh, her energy is positively atomic. Her own visual impairment has never curbed her own ambitions and vision as an opera singer and producer, and formidAbility formalises her work into an incorporated non-profit company which puts accessibility at the heart of the creative process, rather than adding it as an afterthought, and collaborates with the world’s foremost artists working for or with disability. For Hotspur/ Pierrot, Roughton-Arnold shares the stage with Signdance Collective International artists Isolte Avila and David Bower (perhaps best known for his role in Four Weddings and a Funeral), and also incorporates imaginative live audio description from leading practitioners Rationale Method, pre-concert touch tours and braille translations for the audience. Sara Brodie, one of New Zealand’s leading directors and choreographers, joins forces with London-based Australian conductor, Scott Wilson, to create this ground-breaking new production. The project is being supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, with additional support from the New Zealand Society and the Webb Family Charitable Trust, and has just launched a crowdfunding campaign for the remaining £15,000. Tickets can be booked via this link.

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