I met Thomas Banks in 2014 through my work with Platform Youth Theatre. I had heard and read so much about the man, and even spoken with him on the phone before I first met him, and I remember feeling nervous. I was nervous because despite having heard so much about him, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew that Tom was young and gay and from regional Victoria. I knew he was talented, having read some of his writing and seen him perform. I also knew that he was born with cerebral palsy. I was also nervous because I had been asked to work on an adaptation of his play, The Power of Love (2010), and I have never worked on someone else’s story before, let alone a story so real and important, but also so foreign to me. I haven’t had a lot of contact with people with disability, and so like many of us I suffer a little from that awkwardness that comes along with being confronted by something we don’t know or understand.
Thomas was polite, happy, easy to talk to and comfortable. My nerves vanished.
I was invited to work on the Thomas Banks project as dramaturge, to re-examine and adapt the several existing stage versions of his story. I drew upon my experience working with interactive audience engagement and technology, to create a story telling method that incoorporates technology and online mediums. Using these mediums reflect and highlights theire value and place in Thomas’ story and life. Thomas’ typing is flawless. He uses chat rooms to meet people and text to interact with people. He also uses a light writer, a machine he types into, then he presses play and it speaks what he has written. All of these mediums are used in the storytelling of Someone Like Thomas Banks.
Thomas has performed his story twice before. Firstly as a brief, one man performance in 2010, and later as a longer stage play with multiple characters and in depth script in 2013. I adapted these two versions into a one-man show, performed by Thomas himself, paring back the scripting and adding in technology as communication. The technology helped a lot when making choices of how to translate long, complex pieces of dialogue or material when I knew there were limitations on what the performer, and audience, could realistically manage. Thomas’ speech can be exhausting for him and difficult to understand.
Funding was recently secured for the development of this piece, and audiences should be able to witness it later in 2015 in Melbourne and afterwards across regional Victoria. Someone Like Thomas Banks aims to engage and interact with each unique community as it tours regionally. Stay tuned for more details.