'I used to find it quite hard to make friends, but finally I've found a way'
"I used to find it quite hard to make friends, but here - they've really helped build my confidence, which is so important." For Bethany Freeman, joining a theatre group has meant so much more than getting to perform on stage.
Bethany, 19, from Milford Haven, has Down's Syndrome. She's a member of the Hijinx Theatre group and this weekend will get to perform at Wales Millennium Centre for Hijinx's latest production, the_crash.test (The Crash Test).
Joining the group hasn't just given her a chance to act, but some really practical things too through Hijinx she has received professional training in acting, dance, playback theatre and acting for camera and now can read and learn scripts with a little bit of help. "I really enjoy dancing and roleplay," she said. "We have a schedule and a plan that we follow from day to day basis. It's been a lot of fun," she said.
Lucy Green, 24, from Rhyl, is also in the production. She joined Hijinx in 2014 following her lifelong dream to be an actress and she credits the company for giving her the support she needed. She feels more can be done to make the industry a more inclusive environment for people with learning disabilities like herself.
She said: "I’ve been acting since I was eight years old and it’s definitely what I want to do in the future but I find it hard with some theatre companies due to my disability but I’ve found Hijinx and I’ve been happy ever since. More needs to be done however, especially in other theatre companies. People have different needs and they need to acknowledge that, sometimes they don’t know how to approach that or help people with learning difficulties.
"It’s so important that there are theatres like Hijinx that help people with different disabilities. Disability doesn’t mean that we can’t perform, or act or go on a TV show or other actors can do. We are still the same - we are still human. And I think we should be treated the same."
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The performance promises to be a provocative, funny, and visually immersive play set not too far in the future. Incorporating motion capture puppetry, large scale projection and original composition, the performance draws a parallel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and explores our relationship with technology. In the show, a tech start up called Figital are on a mission to create the "next big thing", which results in the formation of a "thing-a-me-bob" or 'Bob', which is a character.
Lucy plays the character of Bob in some of the scenes, but plays herself in certain scenes and then a character called Alexis. According to the actor, her favourite character to play is Bob.
"I like doing the voice and some of the scenes I do as Bob," she explained. "I’m really really excited to see people's reaction to the show. There’s been a lot of hard work but it has been the most rewarding and exciting thing I have ever done."
According to both the performers, Hijinx has become more than just a theatre company. It has become a place of opportunity, a safe space and a close-knit community. For Lucy, it's given her professional skills but also a chance to travel with previous shows and now she can travel independently and read and memorise scripts.
Lucy said: "I’ve made good friends, even when we’re not working we still make the effort to catch up with them. They definitely do help building up your confidence, they challenge you and push you in a good way, so it’s really worth it."
Hijinx, which is based in Cardiff, is one of Europe’s leading inclusive theatre companies, creating performances with learning disabled and autistic artists on stage and on screen.
The show will soon go on tour - starting at Cardiff's Wales Millennium Centre this week and then the Mittenmang Festival in the German city of Bremen later on in the month. The show will also be taken back to Cardiff, as well as Bangor and Llanelli as part of the Unity Festival in June and July.