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Robert removes his clothes on stage, pulling off his socks.

Theatre: Birds of Paradise Celebrates 30 Years

Posted: 25 March, 2024

Birds Of Paradise have been leading the charge for people with a disability in Scottish theatre. Artistic Director and CEO Robert Softley Gale talks to The List about his pride in reaching this landmark anniversary and the company’s ambition to go global.

Birds Of Paradise (BOP) was formed out of an arts and disability-based community over 30 years ago. Robert Softley Gale talks to The List looking back on his time working with Birds of Paradise. Robert performed as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival in 2014 with If These Spasms Could Speak.

With the company having already brought disabled theatre into the 21st century, Softley Gale’s sole stewardship began with My Left/Right Foot (2018), an irreverent musical which he wrote and directed, and was co-produced by BOP with the National Theatre Of Scotland.

Continuing to blaze a trail for disabled theatre with work that can sit alongside any other company on artistic merit alone, Softley Gale sees the future of BOP as global.

‘We already do a lot of work overseas, in Rwanda, Nepal and China. We engage with disabled artists all over the world and look at how we can help them to develop what they do. I think that’s really exciting in terms of what that lets us bring back to Scotland. We can all be quite guilty of telling our stories over and over again, and that’s great, but what I’ve been finding fascinating when I meet a disabled person in China is that we see how different their lives are, but also how similar they are to mine. So I think more international collaborations is something we definitely want to explore.’ 

As a demonstration of how far BOP have come over the last 30 years in terms of creative access, Don’t. Make. Tea. includes a description for people with a visual impairment, as well as a sign-language interpreter, and captions woven into the play’s story.

You can read more about Softley Gale and the history of Birds of Paradise at list.co.uk.

Images by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.

Don’t. Make. Tea., 2024 – includes a description for people with a visual impairment, a sign-language interpreter, and captions woven into the play’s story.

Blanch & Butch (2017), image by Tommy Ga Ken Wan.

The reputation that we’ve now got is very strong, and it’s great to build on that to keep giving people productions they can enjoy, and come back to again and again. As a theatremaker, regardless of disability, that’s where you want to be.’

Robert Softley Gale

My Left Right Foot - The Musical (2018). Image by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.

The Arts

Birds of Paradise
Robert Softly Gale

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