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Posted 12 Jul 2021

Neurodivergent Creativity And The Adaptability Of The Tourette’s Opera

One of the best things about belonging to the neurodiversity community is the constant stream of creativity that I get to witness. We are an artistic bunch with higher than average skills in story-telling, visual thinking, sensory awareness and empathy, it just makes sense that we would find endless unique ways to express ourselves.

One such example of this creativity that has sprung up recently is the Tourette’s Opera, Opera-Tic which screens for the first time on July 10th and was featured on BBC Radio Three.

Initially planned as a live theatre event, the idea was to run a series of workshops bringing together people with TS and ending up with a final performance in London. Produced by Second Movement and Tourette’s Action the project had funding from the National Arts Council and was called Your Story, Your Voice, Your Stage. The ultimate goal was to create a new contemporary opera that would advocate for and raise awareness around Tourette Syndrome.

However, as many of us learned in 2020 adaptability is an invaluable quality when trying to keep an initiative going in the face of adversity. The Opera project was barely off the ground when the pandemic closed theatres over night and forced the organisers and composer Michael Betteridge back to the drawing board. Determined not to let the idea die they quickly came up with a new plan.

Connecting From Lockdown

I reached out to one of the producers Abigail Toland and asked her to tell me how they went about adapting the project, she said:

“We decided to remodel the project and bring every aspect of it online: from the creative workshops to develop the music and words of the opera to rehearsals and recording of the finished piece, and the forthcoming premiere of the film we have made of Opera-tic. Through Tourettes Action’s stewarding of the project we were able to bring together fifteen adults with TS to collaborate on the making of the opera, online. Creative sessions began in May 2020 and the film we have made of Opera-tic wrapped in May 2021.”

As many of us know moving something that was designed to be in person to an online forum can present significant challenges. Not everyone works well remotely, it can be harder to make a personal connection and get the creative flow going. Not to mention the impact that sound delays and technical problems can have when trying to make music together. Not to be deterred, the Tourette’s Opera not only kept going but found ways to turn a negative into a positive. Toland said:

“Working online meant that the project was able to involve people from across the UK. Zoom proved to be an accessible platform for building our opera and opera making community and we also used other digital tools such as slack to exchange and share creative ideas. It also supported us to expand the project considerably to incorporate more group sessions than we would have been able to deliver in person, which added an unprecedented depth to the creative relationships in the group and the opera.”

I love that what could have been a disaster actually turned out to be an improvement giving wider reach and a deeper level of insight.

Creating Something Unique

It can be hard in a world so saturated with content to make something truly innovative and fresh. Throughout the history of the world neurominorities have been drivers of innovation, using our different thinking styles and unique life experiences to challenge the status quo and drive new narratives.

Opera-tic is such a fresh idea, shaking up an old art form by making it more accessible and giving it a focus on inclusion and disability. When asked to describe the opera composer Michael Betteridge says:

“There is no strong narrative or character journey as part of this opera. Made up of fifteen scenes each moment captures a different aspect of the work we devised as a company – some scenes are relatively direct in what themes are being explored, others are more abstract. We invite the audience to find their own meaning in each scene, as we did when exploring ideas and sounds in our workshops. I hope audiences – whether they live with TS or not – come away not just feeling artistically nourished by the opera, but a little more knowledgeable, and most importantly, empathetic.”

As discussed in my recent article for Tourette’s Awareness Month, increased understanding and acceptance is what people with Tourette’s are really looking for. The Opera includes a song written by my colleague Paul Stevenson, who has Tourettes and is known for his creativity in photography, this work really demonstrates more of his range. Tourettes is not as rare a condition as some might think and we need to normalize it so that the TS community don’t feel that they have to hide away.

This project is not only an excellent opportunity to increase public understanding but is also a lesson in the scrappy resilience that gives neurominorities our competitive edge.