An interview with…Amit Sharma, co-director of Graeae’s Prometheus Awakes

Prometheus Awakes is Graeae’s latest production. Picture: Tia Lomas 

Graeae’s offices are, to put it mildly, pretty flipping cool.

Located in Hoxton, next door to the Geffrye Museum, the building has large windows in archways along the front. In each of the windows sits one letter of the word Graeae in giant blocks of varying colours and textures.

Inside there is plenty of colour and light, and in the centre sits a glass walled conference room which has the word door spelt out in large braille letters on the doors.

Chairs of different styles surround the table, the light switches are edged in red, and all the rooms are on one level with no annoying lips to trip over in the doorways.

So why all the snazzy fixtures and fittings?

Graeae is one of the UK’s leading disabled-led theatre companies, if not the leading, and its offices are built to be fully accessible.

I’m here to meet Amit Sharma, co-director of Prometheus Awakes, Graeae’s latest production. It’s just days before the performance, and we’re supposed to talk over lunch, but the food goes ignored as we get carried away talking about the company, the work it does and how Graeae is working to change perceptions of people with disabilities.

Prometheus Awakes – a reinterpretation of the myth of Prometheus – will go a long way to ensuring people see no differences between performers with disabilities and those without. It will be performed on Friday night in the grounds of the Royal Museums Greenwich.

There are no words, instead all the action will be played out visually by actors and volunteers, with projections on the side of the Queen’s House and soaring music playing during the show.

It’s a huge production – literally. 

Working with Spanish company La Fura dels Baus (with whom Amit has had a lot of loud conference calls) Prometheus Awakes features a 24ft tall Prometheus, which is operated by six people and manoeuvred around by a crane.

The human net. Picture: Andreu Adrover

Other set pieces include a net of humans that is winched 25 metres up into the air; a human censer (think of the thing Catholic priests wave in front of them which lets out incense); and a massive wheel, which will contain actors and roll through the audience.

Unsurprisingly, it’s the biggest outdoor production Graeae has ever done, and what makes it even more amazing is that the company will only get to do a few rehearsals in situ before the performance itself.

Amit says: “This is the first time in the UK this is being artistically led and done by disabled people.

“It is such an amazing undertaking. It’s about the wow factor.”

The human censer. Picture: Tia Lomas

Prometheus Awakes is first and foremost about putting on a good show, but being produced by Graeae does mean the fact that it is a disabled-led performance will be in people’s minds.

Amit says: “I hope people go away from the production and say they have seen an amazing piece of outdoor theatre.

“You can look at all the politics about disabled people but we want to create a work where people go: ‘That’s fantastic.’

“Having said that the opportunity for disabled performers here is great. We want people to go away saying ‘wasn’t that person amazing?’ or ‘wasn’t the music great?'”

The production gives Graeae the chance to bring disabled-led arts to the forefront, particularly in a year when the Paralympic Games are coming home. 

Graeae has been working on productions featuring disabled and non-disabled performers since 1980. 

In any other year the company’s artistic director Jenny Sealey would probably be running around the offices, but this year she’s hidden away in a secret location somewhere (I imagine) putting together the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games in her role as co-artistic director (the other director is Bradley Hemmings, artistic director of the Greenwich+Docklands International Festival).

It’s an honour for Graeae that Jenny has been chosen to help lead the opening ceremony, and a mark of just how valued the company is amongst the theatre world.

And the hope is that the Games will leave a lasting legacy on disabled-led theatre. One of the ways that is being done is through Unlimited, the UK’s largest programme celebrating arts, culture and sport by deaf and disabled people which has commissioned a number of works to celebrate the inspiration of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Amit says: “Unlimited has been so important because there has been some fantastic work created through programmes recently, which have got the profile to audiences that would never have experienced that type of art before.

“The key now is the legacy. It is a starting point for deaf and disability art. It’s going to inspire people of all abilities.”

And you’ll be hard pressed not to leave Prometheus Awakes feeling inspired.

Prometheus Awakes is part of the Greenwich+Docklands International Festival. The show starts at 10pm on Friday, June 22 and is free. For more information click here.

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