Inclusive Theatre for an Inclusive Society

Article prepared by Lucia (Spain, UWCD'16), who is doing an internship at UWC Dilijan as a writer.

Great things come in small packages - and the Small Theatre in Yerevan is not an exception. Founded 20 years ago by Vahan Badalyan, Small Theatre is one of the youngest and most innovative theatrical companies in Armenia. In line with their mission, Small Theatre founded the first integrated Dance Company in Armenia, featuring disabled and non-disabled performers alike.

UWC Dilijan Alumni Sona, Miqayel, and Elena collaborated with the development of such a unique project as a summer internship. Sona (UWCD’16) and Miqayel (UWCD’16) initially became interested in the Small Theatre when, as IB Theatre students themselves, they went to see one of their unique productions. As Sona recalls, it was the first time she had seen a performance including disabled and non-disabled people in Armenia. Thus, the project is of great importance because, in Miqayel’s words, “inclusive theatre is one step towards a more inclusive society”. As Miqayel and Sona explained, the benefits of inclusive theatre are bilateral, helping both the dancers and the audience, thus translating into a great impact at a community level.

Miqayel, reflecting on his participation in the project, argued that disabled people are generally perceived as not full members of society and hence stereotyped and discriminated against. Nevertheless, being members of a Dance Company empowers them through, firstly, giving them the opportunity to express their thoughts and voice their struggles. Moreover, performing increases their physical confidence, and gives them the opportunity to discover new skills such as set and make-up design. Likewise, the audience’s exposure to disabled actors embodying non-disabled characters breaks many stereotypes about the possibilities of disabled people.

Hence, aware of the importance of such projects in Armenia and driven by the desire to be engaged with their local communities despite studying abroad, Miqayel and Sona were working with the Small Theatre as a summer internship. Miqayel focused mainly on brainstorming possible ideas for the development of the theatre, as well as producing media and promotion material. On the other hand, Sona carried out research about other inclusive theatres around the world, in order to gather new ideas and study how these could be implemented in the Small Theatre. Moreover, since a key feature of inclusivity is accessibility, both Sona and Elena (UWCD’16) were translating promotion material for the theatre into English and Russian.

Moreover, Sona, who is studying Drama and Conflict Resolution at Bennington College, expressed her views on the future of the project. Reflecting about her own experience in Armenia, she wished she had been able to attend more plays as a child, since theatre is not very widespread in the local communities. Thus, in her view, in order to become truly inclusive, the Small Theatre should reach out to the whole of Armenia, transforming from a project into a theatrical movement that promotes self-expression and inclusion throughout the country.

The essential features for developing projects such as the Small Theatre are people and energy. Sona, Miqayel and Elena, drawing from their own experience in Armenia, together with the skills acquired at college, and in connection with relevant projects, helped promote the development of a platform for self-exploring and development, as UWC Dilijan was for them.