On 4 November 2012, staff of STEP and City Gate in County Dublin and some of the men and women they support attended the Inside Out performance of their original show entitled Branching out in the Smock Alley theatre. Derek McNamara, Jane Fitzpatrick and Damien McLoughlin left the emotive and informative performance with the message that now is the time to branch out and let people know what it is like to be a person with extra support needs.
The show was a stirring account of the challenges such people face as they attempt to integrate themselves into modern day society. The cast of Branching out conveyed to their audience that despite their extra support needs they are entitled to the same freedom of choice as a typically able person would have when it comes to having friends, finding a job or seeking a sexual partner, should they choose to do so.
In a conversation after the show, Jane spoke to Derek about how the performance really showed ‘how angry people with extra support needs are. They were holding up signs with their feelings written on them like, ‘sadness’, ‘happiness’, ‘anger’, ‘fear’ and ‘loneliness’, to show people that no one is any different than anyone else just because they have extra support needs.’ Jane went on to say: ‘We just need to use our words and use our voice to show people what we want to have in our lives.’ Damien McLoughlin added: ‘The show was highlighting that we can talk for ourselves and it is our voice that people should be listening to when they want to ask about us, not our keyworker’s or our family’s voices.’
After the performance the cast members held an open forum with the audience, discussing what had happened in the show, and discussing their own experiences of what it is like to be a person with extra support needs. Jane noted that ‘the talk after the show showed me the strength that is needed to speak up for myself when I need to, and I got to see people speak strongly and confidently to an audience about what it is like to have extra support needs.’ Damien also spoke about the post-show discussion: ‘The challenge is for me to bring myself on in my own life. I have spent years not knowing how to read and write, but the chance is there now that I have found my voice and asked for help.’
Derek, Damien and Jane all agree that this show was a shining light amongst a population of people who at times are kept in the dark. The cast of Branching out delivered a powerful story that meant something to them, and their passion inspired their audience to pick up on their strength and bring their message forward. Damien and Jane’s message in return to the Inside Out Project and the Connect People Network is that we have heard you and now we too want to be heard. However, they have also issued a warning to the cast to watch out–because next year they want to take the leading roles!