Cabaret of Dreams

Cabaret of Dreams marked the 20th anniversary of our Hands & Voices choir and Accessible Arts & Media’s 35th anniversary. The production was funded by Arts Council England.

Created by the cast, in collaboration with our creative team, the show was performed twice in a professional studio theatre in December 2017. A live audience of 340 came to the performances and videos from the show have been viewed over 2,900 times. Ten student volunteers supported the show in technical and front of house roles and we employed our first paid intern as Assistant Stage Manager.

From the outset, we said we wanted to create a show that:

  • drew on the diverse talents, skills and personalities of the groups we work with;
  • gave members of our different projects the chance to collaborate; and
  • creatively showcased the many different ways in which we experience the world, develop relationships and communicate.

We achieved this and so much more. 

Collaborative, person-centred approach

Our cast of 56 predominantly learning-disabled adults worked their socks off. Over the course of three months and 69 devising, making and rehearsals sessions, they collaborated with our creative team to create a show that was, in the words of one audience member:

“Theatre as it should be! The essence of theatre, entertaining, story-telling - a message to think about. A tear to the eye, a smile to the face and a twinge to the heart. Equally at home in Greek theatre on the 'Grand' or in the round. EXCELLENT!”

CoD Elvis for website

The creative process was entirely participant-led, taking our user-led model to the next level. Everything that appeared in the final show, from the original songs, drama and movement sequences, to props, animations and short films, was created by participants.

This was the first time that members of several of our groups had collaborated creatively and worked towards a common goal. Cabaret of Dreams was a joint creative effort by members of Hands & Voices, AbleWeb and our Sensory Programme. A lot of time and effort went into making sure that everyone had their chance to shine in the final show, so that each participant’s unique talents, skills and personalities had their turn in the spotlight.

Andy Stafford, a professional learning-disabled actor from The Lawnmowers, was brilliant in his role as peer mentor. His support and mentoring of the members of the drama group was vital in developing their acting skills and building their confidence.

What did we learn?

We learned that creating opportunities for our artists and participants to collaborate across art forms gives the people who take part in our projects even more opportunities to shine. It was incredible to see the impact on their confidence and communication skills and how much they enjoyed working across art forms. We want to develop this delivery model further.

Our participants proved that they're capable of really challenging themselves creatively. They all really raised the bar on this production and achieved amazing things.

Cabaret of Dreams chorus

Above all, we learned that we can punch above our weight. This was the most ambitious production we’ve ever staged and the fact that it was such a success has been a huge boost. And we had lots of fun – we all really enjoyed working creatively as a team and celebrating our participants' skills and talents. It was the perfect way to celebrate 35 years of Accessible Arts & Media and 20 years of Hands & Voices.  

You can watch a selection of clips from Cabaret of Dreams on our YouTube channel.

Cabaret of dreams filmmaker

What did people think?

We asked people to tell us what they thought of the show.

Feedback from participants included:

“I'm improved myself, I'm a good dancer and more talented and a lot of power in me. Nice, biggest show ever and the whole world knows who we are. My feel like I'm more stronger than ever.” Jamie

Cabaret of dreams singing

“Since I've done drama with Alison and Chris I think I've come on leaps and bounds. Because I've got very confident when I was doing the drama. I found it very, very exciting when I did it.”  Sue 

“I was really stretching myself being out there more.  Acting in front of the biggest audience that's made me really confident. I wasn't confident before. Chris helped me a lot” Kai 

“I liked the dancing and learning dance moves. We don’t normally do that” Lee 

“It gave me a big smile” Darren 

Cabaret of dreams finale

Feedback from student volunteers included: 

“I loved how everyone was totally cool with an audience member getting up on stage to help conduct the final number!” 

“I’m never going to forget this. Can we do it all again next year?!” 

Cabaret of dreams dream sequence

Feedback from audience members included: 

"Guy (16-year-old son) has just said it's the best night at the theatre he's ever had and I agree.”

“Wonderful!  Did a great job of showcasing the talents of every cast member.” 

“I usually watch football on a Saturday afternoon, any more shows like this, I'll hand in my season ticket.”