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SHIELD

Cover of SHIELD by Jamie Hale

On the 14th Jan 2021, Shield – my first poetry pamphlet – will be published by Verve Press. Exploring my experience as a disabled person during the pandemic through a variety of voices, Shield has been described as:

‘These are arresting, heart-stopping poems lit with a rare intensity. Hale’s poems don’t pull any punches, they explore what it is to live in a body and on the way touch the centre of the fragility deep inside all of us. Humane poems that will make you ache.’ 

– Mona Arshi

You can pre-order from many bookshops, or the publisher themselves here.

There will be a launch event in January

Keeping creating when inspiration has fled

Jamie against a brick wall

I’m passionate about my creative career, and when people ask me how I work, one of the first things I say is that I make time to produce creative work every day – even if just a tiny bit. Why do I do that? I’m often uninspired, I struggle to figure out what to write, I sit and stare at my screen, and at the end I have a poem that I’m basically disappointed in.

Sometimes inspiration strikes me like a bolt from the blue. I wrote my poetry pamphlet Shield in three desperate weeks at the beginning of the pandemic – hardly stopping. My upcoming pamphlet, Magpies was the same. So why bother when I often create my best work when I get a bolt of inspiration, not when I’m forcing myself to produce work I’m fundamentally unhappy with? Because the reason I get inspiration is because I create work, and take work in – I read, and I make myself write. I get far more bolts of inspiration when I’m actively working than when I’m in a bit of a fallow period.

So, quality and quantity?

There’s a (possibly apocryphal) story about a pottery class in high school. The tutor divided the students into two groups. One group would be marked on the best pot they produced during the course. The other would be marked on the weight of their combined pots, regardless of quality.

Who produced the better pots?

Apparently, the quantity group – they were testing, learning, experimenting, and improving. The other group were trying so hard to produce something perfect, that they eventually didn’t succeed. It sounds counter-intuitive right? But it’s what I’ve found with my own creative work – that roughly 80% of what I produce isn’t up to scratch, and I like 20%. If I only create when inspired, then I’m producing far less work to get that top 20% from. If I just create constantly, I’m far better at producing that really high-quality work.

My main piece of advice whenever anyone asks me about my career and creativity is that it’s always better to be producing lots of work than very little. But how do I do this?

  1. I make time to write something every day. A committed practice which makes me far more likely to be inspired
  2. I wait before I edit. My opinion on my work often changes radically with time
  3. I write when inspired, but I also write when not inspired. Basically, I write all the time

What’s your top tip for creating successfully?

NOT DYING

Jamie Hale – NOT DYING, Barbican Centre

NOT DYING is my first full length solo show, and was developed in Autumn 2018 through the Barbican OpenLab programme. I’m presenting an early version at the Lyric Hammersmith on the 6th June, before it officially launches at the Barbican as part of CRIPtic (a take-over of the Pit Theatre by D/deaf and disabled people that I’m co-ordinating).

Every solo show is intensely personal to its creator, and the same is certainly true of me with NOT DYING. It tells a story of coming to terms with an impending death – before that was thrown upside down. I’ve never talked publicly about this experience before, and I’m terrified to show the world.

For unknown reasons, from early 2016 to late 2017, I was getting very serious infections. My body couldn’t fight them off, I was ending up in intensive care, and everything looked quite grim. The doctors made it clear that the body couldn’t go on the way mine was. My GP was very forthright (read: brutal) in his clarity of explanation, and there didn’t seem to be an awful lot of hope.

This meant that I was no longer preparing for the plausible guarantee of a long life, and I started to write about that, exploring what it was costing me to live with the constant threat of death hanging over me. The terror, the frustration, the agony.

As a last resort, my urologist tried a new and experimental use of an existing treatment back in 2017 – a process first described in the literature in 2018 – and it began to work. My doctors also realised my adrenal gland was failing, making me almost unable to fight off any illness that came my way. This combination of treatments got the infection under control, and it’s no exaggeration to say that this changed my future completely – and saved my life.

NOT DYING no longer worked for me as a show. I wasn’t rapidly dying any more, I was having to learn what it meant to be a disabled person in the world. How I could root myself. How people related to me, and how I related to them. I rewrote it, as my life and prognosis changed. I focused on my relationship to death, other peoples’ relationships with my mortality, and on the future.

This moment of processing the turn from death to life defines the show completely. That complete reframing of my life allowed me to really see disability through a political lens, as a challenge to me and the world. NOT DYING lets me turn that challenge back on the audience: feel what I felt as I faced dying, then feel how I feel facing the world as a disabled person (and know that you are complicit in this).

#AskForAccess – be an ally to disabled people

A black background, with #AskForAccess written on it in white
#AskForAccess and do your bit to challenge the exclusion of wheelchair users from society

Wheelchair users are excluded from a huge variety of events. Whether talks, readings, performances or workshops, organisations often choose venues that don’t have wheelchair access. When challenged on the deliberate decision to prevent wheelchair users attending their events, they will often say that no wheelchair users come anyway, or that they couldn’t find another venue. What they mean is “nobody really cares”.

Events that don’t provide the bare minimum of wheelchair access are not accessible, inclusive, or diverse. They further the oppression of disabled people and wheelchair users, and limit our opportunities in life. But you can change this.

Let’s show the world that it matters that wheelchair users attend events. Let’s show event organisers that they need to include us. If the demand is there, the access will be provided. This can’t just be achieved by wheelchair users ourselves – so here’s where you come in.

Whether or not you need wheelchair access, when you’re considering attending an event, drop them a message. Tell them you want to attend, and ask whether they provide wheelchair access. Once events see that the demand is there for wheelchair access, they will start changing their policies and providing access. It’ll take 2 minutes, and could make a real difference.

For example:

Hi,
I was considering attending your event on ABC because it looked really interesting, and I wondered whether you were using a wheelchair accessible venue for holding the event.
I really hope you provide wheelchair access, and I’d love to see you at the event
Best wishes

If they reply to that, you could encourage them to make access information obvious on their website, or you could challenge their refusal to provide access:

As I’m sure you’re aware, there is a legal anticipatory duty to make reasonable adjustments to include disabled people, which include making sure that you provide basic wheelchair access – whether or not you know that there will be disabled people there.

But the thing is, you don’t even need to follow it up. By sending that 2 minute original email, you’re showing them that there’s a demand for wheelchair access to their events – so what’s stopping you?

Every time you want to attend something, just #AskForAccess – and do your part in challenging disableism.

Now is a time for artists; now is a time for heroes

The world feels hopeless. Between Trump and Bolsonaro, Johnson, Jinping, Modi, Putin.

The news scroller in the hospital tells me that the pound is surging and the stock market is rising. It tells me that the Democrats intend to impeach Trump. Trump has struck a trade deal with China, and humans are responsible for making American parrots extinct. Progressive hope seems downtrodden, and my friends are all looking at each other while we try to make sense of what happened. Nobody knows how it went so wrong. How the country voted for such a monumentally destructive course (in my middle-class remainer position). We all have suspicions.

What does this mean for artists? It is an imperative to make art. It is an imperative whether we’re making beautiful art to replenish and restore the reserves of a drained and divided population, a step. Art whether we’re challenging people to be better, to crack their shells and let the light in, or planning the tearing down and rebuilding of our lives and communities. It means we are needed more than ever to reach out and create the possibilities of worlds that hang just before our fingertips.

Art isn’t the preserve and property of people who want to create apolitical beauty – but nor is beauty apolitical right now, because nothing is. If you make an active decision not to tackle politics, to not have people of colour, or disabled, or queer, or trans people in your work, then that’s a statement about how you see the world, and how it reflects people like you, and nobody else. If you write about cultures you don’t know and have never engaged with, it reeks of colonialism. Now isn’t the time for that.

In many ways, this election failed to be the progressive possibility it might have been because as a population we failed at building bridges and reaching out to people ‘not like us’. And that isn’t the fault of those people that worked at it, but fault is a zero sum game. It didn’t happen. That’s the fact. And art can make it happen. Art builds worlds into which we can invite people. It offers the very real possibility of showing people what it means to live and exist with certain experiences, and through that, the possibility of drawing connections with people.

Through art, I can maybe convey the fear and terror of what it means to be this dependent on the NHS, on an NHS that can, at any moment, force me into a care home. Maybe I can share the agony of months waiting for a wheelchair that doesn’t further twist my spine. The realisation that even leaving my house is something I have to beg to be supported in doing. That fragility of life – that a life sentence for nothing more than being expensive waits round the corner. That I am always trying to avoid the ghosts of myself that hide in other timelines, where I’m already institutionalised. The fact that my freedom is jealously guarded.

As long as we go into this convinced of our rightness, certain that there is nothing left for us to learn, only to teach people what it is to lead our lives, we will never build those connections that can change the world. I want to know what it means to be an older man from a manufacturing background who has slowly had each dignified job taken away from him. I want to ask him to share it with me, and to support me in writing about it.

We cannot only make art that reflects us, and our stories. We should, I believe, do that to some extent. Do that because it reaches out to people and invites them to share our experience. But then we need to make art that goes beyond that. We need to make art that builds bridges between experiences. That sees the commonalities and humanity in our connections , and then welcomes our shared humanity.. We need to talk and research and understand, then build on that.

We need to commit to regular practice on days when the grey cloud hangs so low our minds seem to be swallowed by it. We need to talk and hope a future, and we need to art it into being. When we feel like we cannot go on creating, we cannot go on at all, we need to reach out to other artists. We need to build resilient communities and communal working methods that can last beyond the immediate crisis to look at the future. We need to not be destroyed by bad news, when we are stronger than that.

Who is with me? Who am I with? And what do I have to offer?

My ability to provide online support and communication is limited. I struggle with typing, and I am at capacity. However, I can provide a lovely co-working space to friends and colleagues, in my flat, with my greyhound. If you know me, reach out. If you don’t, get to know me. Slowly.

I want to build. If we can do it now. when we’re shocked and stunned, when we’re sickened by the feeling that our country has changed irrevocably, then we can do it any time.

Winner of the 2021 Evening Standard Future Theatre Fund Awards in Directing and Theatre-Making

I’m delighted to have received one of the Evening Standard Future Theatre Fund Awards in Directing and Theatre-Making.

Jamie Hale in a blue shirt with red hair, glasses and beard

I was nominated back in November by the Barbican Centre – probably because of my solo show, NOT DYING (dir. Kate O’Donnell), which I staged there as part of CRIPtic 2019. My nomination was in a category for people who’d had theatre training, so I was startled to be shortlisted – but also optimistic. Not necessarily about my chances of winning, but out of a sense that the theatre world is changing – and that a submission that focussed on disability and access could be seen as important by a judging panel that included Kwame Kwei-Armah and Paul Roseby.

By the time the interviews came around, I was in the depths of a family tragedy, and barely coherent when faced by Matthew Xia and Kwame. When asked how I felt when shortlisted, I said I was staggered – that I just hadn’t expected it. Kwame asked why I’d applied then, and I said something about never turning down opportunities, and hoping that they’d be interested in something new. We had a conversation which I barely remember about NOT DYING, then I was told Matthew had something to tell me – that I’d won.

I burst into tears – partly due to the family tragedy and timing, partly due to what the money could mean for my career, partly out of what Kwame said about looking forward to welcoming me to his theatre – and partly because I realised that the future of theatre really was making space for disabled artists.

I was even more blown away on awards night to see that the four artists nominated by Graeae (a d/Deaf and disabled-led theatre company) three won. Out of the six categories, in which there were two winners each, a d/Deaf or disabled person won in at least four (myself in theatre-making/directing, Adam Fenton in acting, Beth Hinton-Lever in musical theatre and Nikki Charlesworth in visual design). I don’t know whether either of the winners in the audio-design or the breakout awards were disabled – but even if not, 5/12 of the winners were disabled.

This really shows me that we can be the future of theatre. That theatre sees us, our voices, our stories, and our talents as its future.

So, what am I doing with that?

The only answer is CRIPtic! We’ve had over 50 amazing applicants, and now it’s onto the process of shortlisting them all for interview. Knowing the extent to which d/Deaf and disabled people are seen as the future of theatre… well, you’d better watch where we’re going.

Shield – my poetry pamphlet is RELEASED

The cover to Jamie's poetry book, Shield. The image is made up of six horizontal stripes. The outside ones are white, and inside it goes yellow, pink, navy, turquoise (top to bottom). On the top white band in green it says "Jamie Hale" centrally with "Shield" in pink next to that. There is a white mask across the coloured bands. At the bottom on the white band it says "Verve Poetry Press" in pink

At the beginning of the pandemic, I spoke to my GP about being ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ and intensive care treatment, and he told me that I was “stuck between a rock and a hard place”, that the factors that made me extremely vulnerable would also make me low priority for intensive care treatment. I was devastated, but out of that, came Shield – my first poetry pamphlet, published by Verve Press.

It was important to me that I create something that highlighted, demonstrated the value that disabled people have, that we’re not just vulnerable, or disposable, that we’re a part of the world – and everyone’s interconnected.

This emerged through a series of 21 sonnets – some in my voice, and some in the voices of other people, linking together what it means to be an interconnected humanity at this time. Writing those sonnets saved me for the fear and devastation that crept in, and now they exist, published, in the world.

On the 23rd Jan, I will be doing a launch event for the book – with a reading, and an ‘in conversation’ with the author CN Lester, thinking about what it means to be an outsider voice, and the importance of bearing witness. Tickets can be booked for free via Eventbrite (where you can also add charity donations and book purchases), and there’s a facebook event.

I’d love to see as many people as possible – and I really hope that the book speaks to everyone’s experience at this time.

Experimental! An online writing retreat for D/deaf and disabled writers

For a little while now, I have been asking on Twitter for recommendations of D/deaf and disabled writers and I am now delighted to announce why!

Experimental! is an online writing retreat for D/deaf and disabled writers currently living in the UK. Curated by myself and produced alongside Spread the Word it will run from 13:00 – 17:00 (with a half-hour break every hour) from Monday 31st August to Saturday 5th September. There will be a sharing from 16:00-17:00 on Sunday 6th September.

Each day there will be a workshop or masterclass and a talk or reading. There are twelve spaces, half of which are reserved for Londoners and the other half open to any D/deaf or disabled writer anywhere in the UK.

Masterclasses will be led by Raymond Antrobus (poetry), Elsa Sjunneson (essay), and Anne Finger (fiction), with readers including Khairani Barokka (poetry).

There will also be industry sessions including  Jemilea Wisdom-Baako (Writerz & Scribez), Stuart Bartholomew (Verve Poetry Festival and Poetry Press) Owen Craven-Griffiths (Apples and Snakes), Ella Kahn (DKW Associates), Ludo Cinelli (Eve White Agency), Davinia Andrew-Lynch (Andlyn Agency), Aimée Felone (Knights of) and Leordora Darlington (Bookouture)  

Each participant will also have access to a 1:1 session for detailed and supportive feedback on a piece of pre-submitted work

For more information or to apply, see the Spread the Word website

Adaptive Android

Logo for Pathfinders Neuromuscular Alliance

I recently gave a talk on adaptive tech for Android and Windows for DMD Pathfinders, a user-led organisation by and for people with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. While I don’t have Duchenne myself, I use a lot of adaptive tech – either regularly or because I’ve tried it. You can read more about the Android tech I discussed here