Making a Social Impact through Theater – A Mother / Daughter Pair (Part 2)

Rachel Swift (stage name Rachel Winters) far right in an adaptation Babette’s Feast by Karen Blixen Adapted by Glyn Maxwell. Photo ©NOBBY CLARK, [email protected]

As a diversity consultant, I feel the performing arts can be a powerful medium to address many social issues such a racism, homophobia, ageism, economic inequality and more. Sometimes people need to be transported outside themselves and their daily lives to see something on stage or hear something in music that can communicate to them much better than a written editorial or a political debate. I have written four blogs about this subject over the past year, including part 1 (link) of this blog about a mother / daughter pair. (See additional blogs at the bottom of this post.)

Last week I wrote about the mother, Cathy Swift. Do read more (link to last week’s part 1) about this fascinating woman who was an accomplished business woman, figure skater and now theatre director in the UK. And after speaking with Cathy I discussed the impact her daughter Rachel Swift (Stage name is Rachel Winters) is making on the world through the world of theatre.

STAN: Rachel, I just got done talking to your mother Cathy about her involvement in the theatre. How did you get involved in theatre yourself and was your mother an influence in that?

RACHEL: My mother has definitely had an impact on me being an actress. She took me to my first theatre show when I was about four. It was a staged version of Postman Pat and apparently I watched wide eyed in amazement. Ever since, she has enjoyed taking my sister and me to the theatre on a regular basis. When I was about seven, I joined the local amateur dramatics group and that’s where my love for theatre blossomed. I loved socialising and working with people from different backgrounds and of different ages, and that’s one of the things that I continue to love today when I’m working on a production. As well as the local group, I started to do a lot of school plays when I joined my Upper School at thirteen. I had a wonderful drama teacher and he was a huge inspiration to me. It was when I met him that I realised I wanted to act professionally.


STAN: What have been some of your biggest joys and struggles working in the theatre?

Mother and Daughter Cathy and Rachel Swift are making an impact in their community through their involvement in theater.

RACHEL: The joys of working in theatre are when you’re working! The people are wonderful and I’ve made some brilliant friends. I’ve worked at some beautiful and prestigious theatres – I’m currently in rehearsals for a production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at Shakespeare’s Globe. I’ve always been interested in people and that’s one of the things I love about acting. The process of understanding a character and working out why they behave the way they do. It can be challenging but it’s a challenge I relish. The main struggle with being an actor is the part where you’re not working. When you come to the end of a job, you often don’t know when the next job will start, and that can be scary. As well as feeling unfulfilled during these times, you can also find yourself without money, as finding flexible work that pays well is difficult. It is something actors are constantly battling with and you have to really love it and care about it to keep on going. It’s also very competitive – getting seen for parts can be difficult, even if you have an agent, and it’s not just about how good you are. A lot of it depends on looking right and fitting other criteria.


STAN: I understand that you have now started a work called Fair Play (link), which aims to use drama and role play to teach children about human rights, gender equality, anti-bullying etc. Can you tell me more about what triggered your desire to start this group?

Fairplay uses fun exercises, role play and games to help children explore a point of view outside themselves, and to feed a healthy and compassionate culture in the classroom.

RACHEL: I’ve been wanting to set up my own business for a couple of years now, partly as a way to gain some control. I love acting but I need something else that I do that (a) pays the bills and (b) I feel proud of. After a couple of business ideas that weren’t quite right, I found myself exploring Fair Play. I’ve become increasingly more aware and passionate about gender equality over the past couple of years and it’s very much at the forefront of my mind. I also work as a theatre practitioner at Shakespeare’s Globe when I’m not acting, so I have a lot of experience with leading drama-based workshops for children. Fair Play therefore made sense. As well as having the relevant experience, I really care about equality and believe that the key to change is education. After discussing the business idea with teachers, I realised that instead of just doing workshops on the niche subject of gender equality, it would be more valuable to explore equality as a whole.


STAN: What are some of the activities that Fair Play does to achieve its mission?

RACHEL: I recently did my first set of workshops at a school in Woking (a town just outside London). One exercise that the children responded brilliantly to was a game I call ‘Islands’: You’re shipwrecked on a desert island and you’re the only survivors. Create a freeze frame of you on the boat during the storm. There is plenty of food and water on the island. As a team, you have to create a whole new society. Write 6 human rights for your island. There is another storm and one person is swept away to another island (so one student from each group moves to a different group). Create a short scene where the new member of the island breaks a rule. How do the others deal with it badly? Do the scene again but change it – how do the people on the island deal with the broken rule in a more fair way?


STAN: How can my readers get involved in assisting or supporting Fair Play?

RACHEL: The full launch of my business is due to be in April. So far I’ve been in the testing phase – working closely with a school to gather experience and perfect the workshops. At launch, I’ll only be contacting private schools about my business as I am aware state schools won’t have the budget to fund it. However, as my business is centered around human rights the goal is to offer subsidised workshops to schools who can’t afford it. If you or anyone else you know can help finance this in any way, or help promote by business, that would be really valuable. Here’s a link to my Patreon page. It’s a really inexpensive way to contribute directly to human rights education in the schools that need it most.

STAN: Thank you for sharing about your life and work with me and I wish you the very best of success with your acting career and your new business.

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My other blogs about social issues being addressed through the performing arts:

“A great diversity experience – Theater Breaking Through Barriers” about enjoying an off-Broadway play in New York City which featured actors with a wide range of disabilities.

“Promoting Diversity and Inclusion Through Bluegrass Music,” is about an innovative annual concert called “Shout and Shine” of diverse Bluegrass musicians. This celebration came about in 2016 as a direct response to North Carolina’s oppressive HB2 “bathroom bill” discriminating against our LGBT citizens.

• I introduce the Justice Theater Project, a social justice theater company whose mission is to produce compelling theater experiences that create community dialogue and give voice to social concern,s through my blog “The Justice Theater Project – Societal Impact Through the Performing Arts.”

• A follow on blog about the Justice Theater Project’s Play “Bent,” The Justice Theater Project presents “Bent” – a drama about Germany’s Third Reich’s persecution of homosexuals.

An excellent resource (and writer): Cerebral Palsy Guidance and Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados, Miami-based freelance writer, online reviewer, aspiring novelist and regular contributor to Cerebral Palsy Guidance

Alex Diaz-Granados, Miami-based freelance writer, online reviewer, aspiring novelist and regular contributor to Cerebral Palsy Guidance

As a career development and diversity (all areas but with an LGBT – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) deep expertise, I often get community contacts via people who discover my website and blog. One particular recent fascinating contact is Alex Diaz-Granados, a writer for the website “Cerebral Palsy Guidance.” Since “people with disabilities” is one the critical diversity constituencies in need to more full inclusion, I discussed cerebral palsy, including its intersection with the LGBT community, with Alex.

STAN: Alex, can you give me a brief description of what Cerebral Palsy Guidance is about?
ALEX: Cerebral Palsy Guidance (CPG) is a website that provides information about cerebral palsy (CP), a disability that affects approximately 764,000 children and the adults in the U.S. alone. CPG was created primarily as a resource for parents of children with CP to give them information about the disability, what treatments are available, what kinds of medical and legal assistance exist, and to dispel some of the myths that surround CP. That having been said, though, we also want to reach the general public and increase awareness about cerebral palsy, which is the most common movement disorder that affects kids.


STAN: Wow, 764,000 people affected is a huge number! Alex, Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in this work?
ALEX: Well, I’m a Miami-based freelance writer, online reviewer, and aspiring novelist – and I happen to have cerebral palsy. I was a preemie, and I acquired CP shortly after birth when a nurse placed me in an incubator – and took a bit too long to turn on the oxygen supply. It was only a momentary lapse, but thus, there was some damage in the motor control region of my brain. Luckily, I fell in love with the written word as a young boy, and I decided that I’d be a writer when I was 14.

As to how I got involved with CPG: I was asked to write a blog for the site in January of 2016. I was writing movie and book reviews for the now-closed Examiner.com at the time, plus I was gearing up to start writing my first novel. But CPG’s chief writer, Leigh Egan, emailed me not long after the New Year and asked me if I would like to be a regular blogger and share with readers what it’s like to live with CP. I’m not a researcher or a legal expert, mind you, but I do know about the challenges of daily existence as a disabled person in 21st Century America. So, I said “yes,” and here we are.


STAN: Alex, could you tell me more about the intersectionality of Cerebral Palsy with being LGB or T? Why is this important to discuss?
ALEX: I’m not LGB or T, but some of my friends are, so I am aware of the challenges they face today. I can identify with the LGBT community’s struggles to gain acceptance in a society where some people still believe that sexual orientation is an anomalous “lifestyle” or “choice” rather than an innate trait. People with CP, whether they’re gay or straight, are still sometimes looked upon as freaks or “damaged” individuals who should be shunned. Disabled people, of course, aren’t vilified or – as in the Pulse shooting in Orlando – targeted by zealots as LGB and T people are, but we still face discrimination and mockery. Look at that disabled New York Times reporter that President-elect Donald Trump made fun of during the campaign. Trump scornfully mimicked his physical disability because he didn’t like the man’s reporting or his probing questions! So for me, the intersectionality of individuals with CP and the LGBT community isn’t about sexual orientation. It’s about human rights.


Alex Diaz-Granados (second from the left) enjoys a dinner party for a close friend

Alex Diaz-Granados (second from the left) enjoys a dinner party for a close friend

STAN: What can allies do to educate themselves about the Cerebral Palsy / LGBT intersection and what actions can they take?
ALEX: I think that dialogue and participative interaction is the best way for people to understand each other. I’m not sure that disabled people in general have a negative worldview about the LGBT community – some people with CP are LGB or T, too. Maybe a small percentage of individuals with CP may have some prejudices about gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender persons, mostly because of their religious upbringing, but others, especially millennials, are more accepting. But by and large I think both groups (disabled and LGBT) get along well.


STAN: How can people learn more?
ALEX: If anyone wants more information about cerebral palsy, its causes, treatments, and what resources are available, there is Cerebral Palsy Guidance. CPG is one of the best sites on the Web, with well-written and researched articles by a dedicated staff. You can find it at https://www.cerebralpalsyguidance.com/


STAN: Thank you for the insights, Alex. Keep up your great work and I look forward to staying in touch and seeing your first novel.

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NOTE: FYI – here is a link to Alex’s LinkedIn Profile to learn more about him.