Kevin Donnellon takes part in a series of workshops hosted by NWDAF and asks what lessons we can learn from the past
NWDAF in partnership with National Holocaust Memorial Day and Liverpool Culture Company hosted a series of drama workshops/master classes lead by Nabil Shaban in January 2008 at Liverpool Hope University
I recently took part in a drama workshop in Liverpool, titled First to Go run by the actor, writer and disabled activist Nabil Shaban. He has written a play about doctors who had all taken the Hippocratic Oath regarding preserving and saving human life, but were willing and even eager to kill patients who were supposed to be in their 'care', all because of an insane political ideology.
I was attracted to his workshop because firstly, I am disabled and therefore I'm interested in this on a personal level and secondly, for my dissertation for my Social Sciences degree I researched the whole topic of eugenics and euthanasia, in particular the Action T4 programme of Nazi Germany which operated officially from 1939 to 1941, when between 200,000 to 250,000 disabled people were systematically killed by Hitler's regime merely because they had a learning, sensory or physical disability.
Nabil Shaban set up Graeae - Britain's first professional theatre company of disabled actors in 1990. I am an admirer of Nabil's acting skills and also his track record in the area of campaigning for disabled people's civil rights. Last November I presented an internal training film for the BBC in Glasgow around their corporate equalities policy and as part of this I interviewed Nabil, who had had very robust views on how and why disabled people are habitually excluded or misrepresented in the media. I found the whole workshop experience extremely interesting and stimulating. The discussion around disability as a political issue brought back memories of the excitement of DAN demonstrations that I was privileged to be a small part of all those years ago.
Doing the improvisation exercise was quite scary. You really had to think fast in terms of conveying a short dramatic montage to the rest of the group. It was also a very valuable lesson in team work. Although Nabil's play highlighted the most horrific crimes and the most extreme form of prejudice that have been perpetrated on disabled people throughout history, I think it is extremely relevant to disabled people today. What happened in Germany seventy years ago could easily happen again, anywhere, and at any time.
Indeed, although the Nazis carried out this persecution to its most extreme conclusion, the idea of people being inferior and worthless is certainly not exclusive to ideologues on the far right - Social Darwinism and eugenics being seen as a panacea to the ills of society was widely adopted by those who considered themselves to be socialist and liberal; people such as George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells. Some of the leaders of the socialist Fabian Society saw nothing wrong in the idea of sterilising undesirable or imperfect beings.
The debate around genetic engineering with its real potential for creating designer babies and eradicating any form of impairment of the gene pool has also had the frightening consequence of once again resurging the old discredited ideas of eugenics and spreading the myth that disability can be eradicated forever.
Read an interview with Nabil Shaban about the background to First to Go on BBC's Ouch
Read a review of First to Go on Dogma
Nabil Shaban: The First To Go
ISBN 978-0-9548294-1-4, Price: £7.99 (Sirius Book Works publishing)
More information available from Nabil's website
Coming in May 2008
Benchtours in association with Sirius Pictures present The First To Go by Nabil Shaban. Directed by Peter Clerke. This is a play that has been ten years in the making and a story which has been buried for decades.
For further information visit www.benchtours.com