By Lynne Mackie
Outspoken > (adjective) frank in stating one's opinions, especially if they are shocking or controversial - exactly what many people who stammer feel they cannot be.
A drama project with TAG Theatre Company, Glasgow, in association with BSA Scotland set out to change all that. Participants were invited along to the Citizens Theatre to take part in a series of drama workshops and were generally allowed to enjoy themselves in an environment where they wouldn't be judged on their stammering alone.
As we threw caution to the wind and released ourselves from the shackles of inhibition, we submerged ourselves in a whole range of exercises - such as acting out a burglary completely in mime, and improvising a scene on the spot with only a suggested character outline to work with. It was all highly enjoyable and conjured scenes that none of the participants are likely to forget in the near future - two survivors on a plank of wood after a ship has sunk; a couple meeting on a bench for a blind date (separately, or intended for one another - who knows?), the male being supremely self-obsessed!
The whole project was leading up to something - an eventual play and DVD by writer Davey Anderson, who came along to the later sessions to discover information about stammering, so that he - as a fluent speaker - could portray us astutely and with fairness.
After a series of weekly evening workshops from April to September 2008, we spent a week together in October, coming up with ideas to inspire Davey in his writing. Whenever we were able to get time off work, college, university or school, we would travel through to Glasgow and work our way through the five day programme. Some of us managed to devote the entire week to the project. On the first three days, we were lucky to be joined by effortlessly cool American Taro Alexander. Some of us had travelled from Edinburgh, Inverkeithing or Dunblane to take part in the intensive week, but ... this man managed to trump us all by flying in from New York to help us out!!
He made us pretend to become a stammer, lurking behind our victims like many of us imagine they do. "Just stay in. Why bother going to the party? You won't enjoy it...", and such like, the stammer whispered.
Founder of 'Our Time', a similar theatre project for young people who stammer in New York, and himself a person who stammers, Taro provided fresh ideas. His obvious enthusiasm for being involved was contagious as he led us in further improvisations - such as becoming a still image, before others decided what the scenario was and we came to life accordingly. He also, thought-provokingly, made us pretend to become a stammer, lurking behind our victims like many of us imagine they do. "Just stay in. Why bother going to the party? You won't enjoy it...", and such like, the stammer whispered.
It was excellent to work with someone like Taro as his experiences can help this phase of the Outspoken project to progress. We all hope we can find future ways of collaborating with Taro and 'Our Time', whether in Scotland or NYC as well.
Also, during the October week, and at some of the sessions before, we welcomed Iain Piercy to our ranks. Ian filmed some of our exercises before interviewing us for the final DVD footage. It was fantastic to work with all these people and it really felt like we were working towards something big.
For now, as we leave Davey to create his masterpiece, the sessions at the Citizens Theatre have come to an end. But those who took part are determined not to sink into the background. We intend to carry on meeting up and having a good time, as why shouldn't we? We would welcome anyone else who wants to join us in this quest. It's not too late!
We're going to continue to enjoy ourselves, to continue improving our confidence in speaking in front of other people. And, we're not going to let stammering hold us back, because we've already proved that we're more than capable of being Outspoken.
Spring 2009. From Blether issue 8.
Update: The DVD is now available to buy in the BSA shop, while stocks last.