“You shouldn’t listen to everyone else – just be yourself – I’m making these guys remember who they are,” says Ryan Speer, leading man in Battersea’s Baked Beans disability drama group.
The Baked Beans Company was founded in 1997 to provide outstanding services for people with learning disabilities, with the aim of helping its participants integrate into society.
I went to see Paradise Mine, their latest play set in a dystopian reality and draws inspiration from the work of Charlie Chaplin, before its release at New Wimbledon Studio Theatre in March.
Its message is one of individuality, integrity, and non-conformity.
Ryan, who played the hero in the group’s previous performance, has been passionate about acting since the age of three and Baked Beans gives him an outlet for his creativity.
He has been a member of the troupe for three years, taking part in 12 performances.
Ryan said: “I heard about this lot and I like being surrounded with people like me. I just focus on what I have got – I learn the script instantly.”
Unlike most drama groups, the script writing process is collaborative and involves each member.
The crew typically spend several months rehearsing for a play and constantly incorporate new content.
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For its members, Baked Beans offers more than just an opportunity to rehearse, it provides an outlet where they can come together and truly express themselves.
One member, Danny Musini, who loves the community environment and spontaneity, said: “I got into it through my family – I do it to make my mum proud. She lost her husband and it has been hard for my family.”
George, a member who has been part of the group for four years, said: “I have been acting forever, but I had never been on a proper stage until I came here – now I’ve done two successful shows.”
His mother praised the company and the work it has done for her son – until joining the troupe he had been isolated, even throughout his education.
HEROIC: Ryan takes to the stage as the hero
Group director Ivor Potter has also been with the Baked Beans Company for four years, he said: “The previous show that we did was quite a light love story, but we wanted this one to be dark.
“The script gets written by improvising scenes. If you come out with it in the first place you are more likely to remember it.”
Despite my preconceptions the company don’t coach their students any differently, in fact Ivor employs the same techniques and teaching style as any traditional drama school.
He said: “All the same rules apply. The key is not to treat it any differently to normal acting. You cannot play a part in a play unless you can just relax. Being playful loosens you up.”
The group was initially only meant to last for six weeks as a summer drama project, but the company now operates 13 different music and drama groups across south west London.
In a society where we are all encouraged to model ourselves on other people, the Baked Beans Company offers an important reminder that what we really should do is just be ourselves.
Paradise Mine will finally be revealed to the public on 22 March at the New Wimbledon Studio Theatre.