Funky Llama has been the Theatre Royal Plymouth’s flagship community project for the last 10 years, providing a platform for disabled adults to actively participate in the creation and delivery of activities and professional, inclusive arts events.
I’ve had the privilege of working on the project since it began in 2013, starting as the Funky Llama Assistant as part of the programme launch following a pilot that took place in 2010. Since then, I’ve had multiple roles on the project, predominantly in a producer capacity since 2016.
Funky Llama began in response to a lack of age appropriate, high-quality arts activity and events that enable the disabled community to go out and have a good time in a safe and supportive environment, where accessibility is at the forefront and not an afterthought. Right from the beginning of the project we’ve placed lived experience at the heart of the work. Our Steering Group, Driving Force are the beating heart of Funky Llama and their diverse lived experience of disability and neurodiversity has enabled us to root our activities and events in a needs-led, person-centred approach.
The Steering Group has evolved so much over the 10 years. They are vital to the success of the project, so it has been so important to hold a space where everyone’s voice, experience and opinion can be heard. It’s not only been about what they bring to the table to steer the project’s direction of travel, but it’s also been about skills development for those individuals. By being part of the steering group, they have learnt key skills that are transferable to everyday life, such as communication and listening, leadership, public speaking and teamwork. Many members of the group have gone on to volunteering and training opportunities, and in some cases paid employment or roles specifically in the arts industry. We’ve got radio show hosts, Special Olympians, comedians, stage managers, dancers, writers, and solo performers. It’s been an utter joy to work with them all and watch them flourish.
The evolution of Funky Llama events is something I am most proud of. It’s been an ongoing learning process and we’ve learnt from each event we’ve produced, building upon and improving accessibility each time. It’s not been just one area or aspect we’ve given focus to, it’s been about considering everything from the backstage area, the positioning of a stage, the technical equipment, sound levels, changing facilities, food that caters to a variety of palettes, signage, seating etc. It’s also been about partnering with really great people that share our ethos and have been willing to go on the journey with us. Our colleagues across numerous departments at TRP have been key and great partnerships with companies such as Nub Sound and Kaos Productions, instrumental in the continued success and development of the events.
It’s also been a real privilege to collaborate with a whole host of amazing disabled-led arts organisations over the last decade. We’ve had fantastic companies such as StopGap Dance Theatre and Anjali Dance Company, pioneering songwriter and artist Lizzie Emeh and Dean Rodney’s The Fish Police from Heart’n’Soul perform at our festival and club night events. We’ve established long-standing collaborative partnerships with Diverse City and Extraordinary Bodies and hosted artist exchanges with other disabled-led events in the UK including the Blue Camel Club, Beautiful Octopus Club and Bubble Club. I’m also really proud of the collaborative relationship we’ve nurtured with local arts companies, specifically Far Flung CIC, who we’ve grown with and responded to. The development of the Funky Llama project has felt very intertwined with Far Flung’s practice and the company’s development over the last seven or so years.
There are, of course, so many incredible memories and highlights from the last decade that all those who have been involved hold close to their hearts. The legacy that Funky Llama leaves is huge and invaluable to Theatre Royal Plymouth. It’s so embedded within all that we do now, for example, before the programme started, we didn’t have relaxed performances, 10 years on they form a significant part of our access provision, with our relaxed panto selling out for the last two years.
As this era of the project comes to an end, we are beginning to look ahead to the future, and I am excited about the possibilities ahead of us. We have formed some important creative relationships with other disabled-led companies over the years and future collaborations that focus on the South West as a centre of excellence for disability arts feels key to driving what we do next.
We already have some great performances and opportunities lined up for 2024. Starting with the phenomenal Paraorchestra, coming to TRP in March with their show The Nature of Why, a playful fusion of live orchestral music with contemporary dance that blurs the divide between performer and audience for an experience bursting with passion and joyous intensity.
This isn’t the end, but rather the start of something new, taking all that we have learnt and loved about Funky Llama into the next decade, ensuring inclusivity is at the heart of creativity.
Watch this special documentary to mark 10 years of Funky Llama: