Blog: Iain Bloomfield

Comedian and rapper Alan "Cool" Clay talks about his learning disability in his show Skip Rap. The show's director explains more

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“I’ve been called all sorts in my life – mong, spaz, spastic – but I’m not making a show about overcoming my disability.” Alan Clay.

Too right.

SkipRap is about being working class, about wanting to be an artist and express yourself and the great big rocks that society throws in your way that make it twice as hard for you as it is for those who travel the well-worn routes into a career in the arts.

It’s about being an artist of 20 years standing who has toured nationally and internationally yet still has to deal with the grinding realities of disability living allowance, being on suspension and the struggle it can take to simply put a decent meal on the table for you and your girl.

It’s about the rage that one feels about seeing political vanity projects such as HS2 and the Northern Powerhouse having money sunk into them whilst social funding, the money that gets spent on people and dignity and safety, gets cut back again and again and again. Rage about people being declared fit to work when they are dying.

It’s also about sitting amongst all that and still having a dream, a great big American Dream full of cars and money and stardom, which in the end is a way of imagining having some status, a voice, about being valued.

“I’ve had enough of this,
Keep spending money on stuff we don’t need
Knocking down buildings not leaving a tree
Just leave it be –
A superfast train that’s not for me.”

Alan was junked by his school, bullied, told by his teachers he’d never amount to anything, to forget his dreams. But Alan had a talent, a talent as a performer that was nurtured by Bradford’s Mind the Gap Theatre Company, a talent honed over the last 20 years working with Mind the Gap Theatre Company, Oily Cart and Theatre Workshop, honed playing in venues around the world – in short a career that many actors would kill for.

Honed in fact to the point that Alan was the first northern learning disabled artist to receive Arts Council England Grants for the Arts funding – for the R&D phase of SkipRap. This was followed by further funding to make a full show, which he is doing alongside New York based hip-hop theatre maker (and former artistic director of Contact Theatre) Baba Israel, beatboxer, musician and playwright Testament, and me.

Every word in the piece is by Alan. It is his vision and that matters.

It matters because role models matter, because seeing “your” experience on stage or screen matters, because our national “story” is defined by culture – on screens, stages and in print – and the access to those is getting harder and harder for working-class actors and storytellers.

And that has huge political and societal implications – can we imagine a 21st century Cathy Come Home?

We are all poorer without one.

Skip Rap premieres at MTG Studios in Bradford on 2-3 Feb before heading to Square Chapel Arts Centre, Halifax (8 Feb), Theatre Deli, Sheffield (15 Feb) and ARC, Stockton (28 March)

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