This February during strict Covid 19 restrictions we attempted to put on a play about living with invisible illness. It was a massive challenge, and that's an understatement. Sitting in rooms, with windows wide open whilst it snowed outside, wrapped in coats, blankets and adorned with masks, and using copious amounts of hand sanitizer, we ploughed on with rehearsals.
A lot was learned. A lot was also learned about empathy, about open and honest communication, and about working in such a way which benefitted everyone. When living with invisible illnesses and disabilities, we may be reluctant to allow them to be seen for fear of being judged, seeming less competent, or not being employed at all. It can be very difficult to really believe that we are in a safe environment which will allow us to be our selves. It can be difficult for the employer who wants to offer such supportive working spaces, to do so in a way that creates that feeling of safety and trust. Especially to people who have been made very wary by systems whether local, global or political that have, or do work against them.
There are many learning curves. Firstly, time needs to considered. Time needs to be allocated to provide a safe space for honest and open discussions about requirements needed by the person, how and if these can be met, and what can actually be done before employment begins. This may require several meetings, with time given in-between for re-adjustments and re-aligning expectations, needs and achievable goals. Then a plan of care should be set in place, with dates, and actions that everyone is in agreement with. It is important that there be complete transparency on both sides, this requires trust, which goes back to time again.
Working in a way which supports people with invisible illness or disability in a theatre setting may not be easy. Having flexible times for starting and finishing, having a day off during the week to recover, facilitating rest-periods in the day for fluctuating energy levels, sending voicemails rather than emails, using the right fonts for messaging, having meetings which unpack any continuing barriers to working, and by being empathic are some of the ways it was and can be managed.
Listening, time and bravery are some of the ways that it can be achieved. The bravery to accept that good theatre can be made in different ways, which include people who may not be considered, due to their health or disability. The bravery for those people to trust that with honesty and openness their needs can be met, without judgement or prejudice, and the time to achieve all three.