A pioneering theatre company which has won fans at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Green Man and other festivals is in line for a major award.
Hijinx Theatre, which has created opportunities for scores of learning disabilities including autism has been shortlisted for one of this year’s Wales Care Awards, organised by Care Forum Wales to recognise outstanding work in the care sector.
It has been nominated in the category for the Sir Bryn Terfel Foundation Award for promoting the arts in social care, which is sponsored by the Pendine Arts and Community Trust (PACT).
PACT was established by the Pendine Park care organisation to support arts and community activities across Wales.
Hijinx Theatre was established in 2006 and through its productions, workshops and community activities has helped to change people’s perception of learning disability. That achievement was acknowledged in 2019 when the company received a St David’s Award.
Though based in Cardiff, the company has five academies throughout Wales – one each in Colwyn Bay, Carmarthen and Aberystwyth and two in Cardiff – providing professional training for 70 talented actors with learning disabilities and autism, and some have gone on to appear in major TV roles.
The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown posed huge problems for all theatres but at Hijinx it was a particularly difficult time as so many learning disabled people faced isolation.
“We were very concerned about the impact closing our sessions could have on the people we support,” said Development Officer Greta Bettinson.
“We wanted to prevent loss of the confidence or communication skills gained through our work and maintain the professional skills of our Hijinx actors. During lockdown we continued to support over 150 participants, ensuring they were safe and connected, as for many our sessions were the only regular external contact.”
During lockdown Hijinx delivered a remarkable 550 online sessions, made over 600 submissions to casting directors, reached over 1,100 people through corporate training, made two short films which provided high-quality experience for six actors and produced five new on-line theatre pieces.
One of those webinar pieces, titled “Metamorphosis”, won awards for the best director and most innovative use of technology at the international Good The@tre Festival in 2020.
Tributes to the work have come from participants, their families and outside bodies.
Supporting the Care Award nomination, one parent wrote: “I was fearful that our daughter would go back to being completely socially isolated again due to lockdown, but she is really enjoying the group chat and it’s the highlight of her week.”
One young person who has blossomed through her involvement is “Ellen”, who joined Hijinx in 2015, having previously found it difficult to make friends and suffered with depression.
After her parents saw Hijinx performing at Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Theatre she joined the company and in 2018 was chosen to represent the company on an international tour. It was the first time she and others had been on a plane and travelled without their parents.
“I started to adapt and it was really exciting,” she said. “Once we did a performance in France at 1am! Hijinx teaches you how to be professional. They teach me to restrain my energy and put it into my work.”
A recent impact study by Milestone Tweed, who help organisations to generate and develop their income, stated: “Hijinx is clearly significantly changing the lives of the actors and participants with which it works. For many of them, it is highly likely that these life-altering and life-defining changes have happened as a direct result of their engagement with Hijinx.”
Hijinx’s success has influenced mainstream theatre and film companies to cast more diversely.
Greta proudly commented: “By making it commonplace to see actors with learning disabilities and/or autism on our stages and screens we are raising the aspirations for learning disabled people generally.”
The Wales Care Awards will be presented at a ceremony at City Hall, Cardiff, on October 21, the evening’s main sponsors being Ontex UK.
The event will once again be hosted by popular tenor and radio presenter Wynne Evans, best known as Gio Compario from the Go Compare TV ads and this year will be streamed live for the first time.
Mario Kreft MBE, Chair of Care Forum Wales, said the aim of the Wales Care Awards was to recognise the unstinting and remarkable dedication of unsung heroes and heroines across Wales.
He said: “The social care sector is full of wonderful people because it’s not just a job, it’s a vocation – these are people who go the extra mile for others.
“During the Covid crisis, this fantastic workforce rose magnificently to the challenge, putting their own lives on the line to do everything they possibly could to safeguard the people for whom they provide care.
“Unfortunately, it has taken a global pandemic for many other people to realise how important and how significant our social care workforce is.
“Their incredible contribution was summed up best in the powerful and emotive words of the song, Heroes of our Heart, written by the acclaimed poet Mererid Hopwood and sung by Sir Bryn Terfel, which was set to the famous tune of Men of Harlech. The message that the diolch should last forever is one that we should never forget.
“If you don’t recognise the people who do the caring you will never provide the standards people need and never recognise the value of people who need care in society.
“All the nominees deserve to be lauded and applauded and it’s a real pleasure to honour the contribution of all the finalists.
“I congratulate all the individuals who have shown outstanding dedication and professionalism. Every one of them should be proud of their achievement.
“They are Wales’s finest.”