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‘Shift!’ Music Theatre but not as you know it!

We all need to be able to ‘Shift!’ sometimes…

At Made By Mortals we make musical theatre, but it’s not usually what most people think of when they think of musical theatre. I mean, it’s not My Fair Lady or Chicago – not that there’s anything wrong with those shows. Our work is about people combining music, song, drama and movement in interesting and imaginative ways to tell stories or explore a theme. We rarely have lead performers and we almost always have audience participation.

Our shows are put together through humour, compassion and consensus. Unlike the professionals, our work celebrates and embraces those little moments where things go awry, or a performer does something unexpected. We want to see our performers up there performing their hearts out and enjoying every minute of it. We are not looking for polished shows where everything is slick and the illusion of the world of the show is upheld at all times. Our work is about people, beautifully imperfectly perfect people and our performances reflect this and use this eventuality to underline the artistic and or social meaning we are aiming to present.

Beginning the process at Pure Innovations

So, all this being said, when we arrived at Pure Innovations to set about delivering this well thought out, hopefully innovative and artistic approach, the participants expectantly presented us with a pile of librettos from musicals ranging from Wicked to Starlight Express! Luckily Andy (my fellow director at Made By Mortals) is a whizz on the piano so he was able to regale everyone with something of a musical mash-up. Artistic integrity can get stuffed – this was a lot of fun and a great way to get to know everyone!

Getting to know the group is key to our devising process.


We always have some initial ideas before we start a project but it’s really important for us to learn and shape the work with the group as we go along. This comes from everyone inputting their ideas, opinions and imaginations. It also comes from us learning about the individuals and group’s interests, talents and personalities. With this in mind, we wanted to use the group’s love of musical theatre to help forge the show. The project explores learning difficulties and discrimination in the workplace, but we started with the notion that within the magical world of theatre you can be or do anything.


In rehearsals for ‘Shift!’


Theatre is a metaphor in the piece for ‘anything is possible’. The group used this opportunity to imagine their dream jobs – astronauts, stand-up comedians, models etc. Theatrically we then created an opening number with them that begins in a theatre and is in a very recognisable musical theatre style. Then with the introduction of the concept of discrimination the piece becomes warped and the recognisable musical theatre style breaks down.

Exploring discrimination through theatre

The group were insightful when exploring discrimination in the workplace. Some of this insight came from their lived experience and some from them imagining themselves into different scenarios/characters. Many of the group had had lots of positive experiences of work and some had not worked at all, but everyone had plenty to say on the subject. We discussed bullying, being left out, being patronised, being under-estimated, being ignored and much more besides. We wanted to express these ideas in as much of a non-verbal way as possible, so alongside expressing them musically with Andy and through movement/drama with me, we asked the very talented visual artist Johnny Woodhams to help the group create something that could visually express these concepts.


A sculpture created by the participants.


The group created jagged shapes, nasty words and distorted faces all displayed on a dark looming shape. After the big show beginning, the performers are forced to spend time under this shape’s (discrimination) shadow and are then challenged to take it apart and return to the unfettered ‘anything’s possible’ world of musical theatre, where this wonderful journey all began. I guess you’ll have to watch the show to see if they succeed in this challenge!


‘Shift!’ is an original music theatre experience by Made By Mortals about learning disability and the workplace funded by Stockport Local Fund. The project is a collaboration with Pure Innovations, who support a diverse range of people to live independent, healthy and valued lives in their communities. The premiere of this show is at Stockport Masonic Guildhall on 11th October at 1pm. We have another packed-house, however, for more information or if you’re desperate to be squeeze in, please email me (Paul) at

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