A pioneering theatre company which believes that an actor with learning disabilities will win an Academy Award by 2030 has itself won another prestigious award..
Hijinx Theatre, which has created opportunities for scores of learning disabilities including autism has received a silver award in this year’s Wales Care Awards, organised by Care Forum Wales to recognise outstanding work in the care sector.
It was 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.
The ceremony – dubbed the Oscars of social care – took place at City Hall, the evening’s main sponsors being Ontex UK.
The event was once again be hosted by popular tenor and radio presenter Wynne Evans, best known as Gio Compario from the Go Compare TV ads.
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.
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.”
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.”
Mario Kreft, chairman of Care Forum Wales, said the ceremony was all the more poignant because of the Covid pandemic and what front line staff had endured.
He said: “I would like to pay a heartfelt tribute to all the wonderful people who work in social care after the rose magnificently and courageously to meet the unprecedented challenges they have faced over the past couple of years.
“We have always recognised their true value and hopefully now the rest of Wales is also aware of how lucky we are as a nation to have them providing care and safeguarding our most vulnerable people.
“Our finalists are the best of the best and are here representing the whole social care workforce who all deserve a big pat on the back.
“There are only winners here tonight so it is only fitting that the finalists will receive a gold, silver or bronze Wales Care Award.
“I trust that they will continue to inspire those around them as role models and encourage others to aspire to even greater heights and in the months and years to come.
“In the words of the powerful song, Heroes of our Heart, written by the acclaimed poet Mererid Hopwood and sung by Sir Bryn Terfel, let the Diolch last forever.
”We take our hats off to them.”