London is a city well known for its theater scene. The variety and excellence of its theaters is staggering, and there is always something new to be found in the many theater companies and their performances.
Even in the crowded London theater scene, though, Chickenshed Theatre stands out. Begun in 1974 in North London by two woman, Jo Collins and Mary Ward, who literally started a theater company in a chicken shed, it has come far, earning many accolades and gathering some powerful and generous sponsors since its early days, including Judi Dench and Trevor Nunn. All of their success has come about through allegiance to their mission: “Where difference can divide, at Chickenshed the difference makes the art.”
This mission statement has proven true many times over for Paula Rees, a writer in residence with Chickenshed for the past 25 years. Born with both cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus, Paula was not expected to live very long, or to thrive if she did. Several spinal cord operations when she was 16 saved her physically, and her family’s love and support and decision to bring her to Chickenshed is what saved her mentally and artistically. Despite the seriousness of her disabilities, Paula is an extremely creative person who is today an accomplished writer, director, dancer, and performer because of her theater work.
As a result of years of being overlooked and seen as her disabilities rather than as a person, Paula identifies very strongly with Chickenhead’s mission of inclusion. She says, “My ambition is for the world to be inclusive–it is as simple as that. I want people to be seen as individuals, be treated equally and for mutual respect to be routine.” She loves sharing her stories, her characters, and her songs with her fellow performers and the audience because it connects her to them and gives her a sense of purpose. She directs and teaches and performs, and she is an inspiration just by being herself, determined to succeed and contribute to the world through her work, determined to transcend any label