I live and work in a small village in Gloucestershire, England. Forty of the 80 residents in my village are classified as adults with learning disabilities. Everyone in the village works. Ben Luckham, a 65 year-old man with Down Syndrome, shares my house. He is the village postman.
Ben’s younger sister Claire is an acclaimed playwright. In the early 1990s she wrote a play, The Choice, about Down Syndrome, abortion, and her own complicated relationship with her brother Ben. I had long sought a means of exploring how people with learning disabilities viewed themselves and their relationship to the “abled” world. I wanted to find a way in which they could express themselves free from condescension and clichéd voices.
I decided to have The Choice restaged, only this time, four of the five roles were played by adults with learning disabilities. In this way, actors with disabilities were playing the parts of “abled” people exploring their relationship to the disabled. I had a number of apprehensions. Would the actors be fully aware of the nature of the play and understand the implications of the characters they were playing? How would I be sure I was not exploiting their vulnerabilities? We spent a lot of time, including bringing in an advocate, in order to ascertain that everyone was fully cognizant of the underlying themes in the play. Two actors dropped out. One because she didn’t comprehend the meaning of abortion, the other because she could not separate herself as a person from the role she was to play.
We filmed for 18 months. There were a lot of ups and downs, both on the side of the play’s production and on the side of the documentary makers. The play’s director, Teo Gwynne-Evans, with the patience of half a dozen saints, struggled to get the players to learn their lines and leave their personal issues outside of the rehearsal space. I struggled to sell the concept and raise enough money to keep us filming.
Don Fairservice and I confronted more than 150 hours of material in the editing room. Eight months later, I believe that the actors in Fair Play have found their voices and have something to say.
David Herman, Producer/Director
David Herman was born in South Africa in 1950 and left at 16 in order to avoid serving in the apartheid army. He went to Atlantic College in Wales where he majored in English Literature and Economics. He worked as a freelance photographer in Europe and the Middle East for a number of years before before becoming a television cameraman in Israel, London, and Washington, D.C. In 1985 David Herman became an independent filmmaker producing and directing documentaries. In 1987 he won an Emmy for 7th & T, the story of the Washington, D.C. neighborhood around the first African American theatre in the U.S. In 1989 he returned to the UK and did a three-year training in biodynamic agriculture. He has worked as a biodynamic farmer, living in a community with adults with learning disabilities since then, while continuing to produce documentary films.