Week One Reflections – GBS Project


Research and Development: #GBSproject

Kitty Randle and Adam Pownall perform a contact exercise developed by Marc Brew

Kitty Randle and Adam Pownall perform a contact exercise developed by Marc Brew

I’m going to begin at the end of the week by sharing this statement which our team of artists collectively wrote as an introduction to the piece required for one of our scratch performances:

What if you wake up to find your body slowly shutting down? Your ability to walk, talk, blink is stolen from you. Nobody knows how, nobody knows why.
Guillain Barré Syndrome affected Adam Pownall in 2009 causing full paralysis within 3 weeks. In a creative collision of movement, sound and new writing, the GBS Project tells a story of positive recovery.

That is what we are collectively working towards and here is a brief snapshot of how we worked towards this shared vision.

Week one was hosted by Deda in Derby and our team of creative artists, many of whom meeting each other for the first time, began to ask many questions about the project and each other, using their own skill set began to develop our own provocations of the project and one another.

Nick Wood had drafted a comprehensive selection of short scenes in a chronological order, using interviews with me and my friends and family who supported me during the illness. The scenes didn’t follow a form with some being extremely creative, some were directly scripted from the interviews and some were just ideas for scenes. Not all sections were true to life, but neither were they fictional, we agreed that what they are is honest if not a true recollection. This was a great starting point as the sections were shared with the team prior to day one along with the recordings of the interviews in order to research into the beginnings of the R&d period.

Tilly Branson, our Director, used these scenes to begin with us all reading out the scenes but in a lucky dip order. This gave us the chance to look at each scene on it’s own, hear the words out loud and reinforced the idea that we can play with time and sequence.

As the project moved forward at a refreshingly fast pace the more we realised that the questions we needed to ask were about form, not content, and what devices and techniques we could use to tell this story.


As mentioned in the synopsis above we knew we would be playing with movement sections instigated by Movement Director Marc Brew, we also knew that we would have scripted sections from Nick Wood. Northern based artist Luca Rutherford was assigned in a dramaturgical role but we knew she would add so much more than this with her contemporary style and could offer a ‘live art’ feel to sections of the piece involving direct address and challenges for performers Kitty Randle and myself.

We knew that we could blend and merge the sections of new writing, verbatim, movement and direct address to play with the forms of what we could create, add into this the layers of sound, music and underscoring from Sound Designer and Composer Adam P McReady. The shared excitement of this prospect can be felt in the room as the artists collaborate with a shared respect for each other’s craft.

This is a lot of form, you may agree, but an exciting challenge along with the huge amount of energy and ideas from our creative team, at this stage we won’t rule anything out, as that is what research and development is for but we will play with the forms, we will merge forms together and I must admit we are having a lot of fun along the way (which may or may not include yoghurt). Well done to Tilly for herding these creatives cats and keeping us focused, more of the same in week two.


It’s great sharing a stage with Kitty, an absolute gem of a find to work with, a performer with such strong movement skills and willingness to improvise but also a performer who is strong vocally, works hard at character development but most admirably has a wicked streak of playful mischief. Thinking about the forms we are using; the roles which she could play within ‘what this performance could be’ seem suitably matched. We seemed to have a struck an astounding shared movement relationship. Some performers you have to spend days with, fine tuning the ability to perform, move and respond together. Not Kitty and I, from day one working with Marc Brew we got straight into creating and playing and to produce an improvisation like the video below on day one seems incomprehensible, but we did it.

Personally it’s difficult for me to play myself in various guises. I must play ‘character Adam’ as we tell the story, as well as be ‘performer Adam’ as we link sections together, i think Kitty got the short straw though, she must play a host of voices, i say voices and not characters as some are just voices, but we are also visioning that GBS will be a character in various forms, again a challenge but an exciting one, of which i am a little jealous.


I’m exhausted after week one, I lay in bed writing this post! But reflecting on the week we have had, well 5 days (though it feels like 10 with the amount we have created, played with and discussed) I’m extremely proud to be Creative Producer and Performer on such an amazing project. The art is becoming more prominent as we move forward, I began this project in order to raise awareness of Guillian Barre Syndrome and GAIN Charity and that is still my main objective however undercurrent objectives are arising all the time; to develop myself, to develop the team of artists we have, to make great theatre and to tell an honest story of positive recovery.


Next week we are hosted by ARC Stockton, a fitting place for the project and artists involved as the venue and it’s Chief Executive Annabel Turpin are widely known for their progression in artist development and it is through this that the GBS Project is supported. We can’t wait to be present in such an exciting building, and more importantly share our work for the first time with their artists and audiences in the ARCADE Scratch Night on Wednesday 18th November.

I’ll update progressions on the Stockton week and our first sharing with an audience next weekend but for more live updates do follow the twitter account @GBSproject or @adam_pablo

 Marc Brew instructs Kitty and AdamRehearsal image

Adam McReady introduces sound


GBS (Working Title) R&D Creative Team

Blog, creative team, GBS, images

We have been granted Arts Council funding for the research and development phase for a new project; ‘GBS’ (working title). It comprises of preliminary artistic research and medical research prior to 2 weeks in a rehearsal room to work towards a new piece of small-scale theatre about my experiences with Guillain Barre Syndrome 6 years ago. As a patron for the charity I’d like to use my knowledge and experience in the arts to raise awareness of the condition and it’s supporting charity GAIN, but most importantly to tell a story through the mediums of new-writing, verbatim and physical theatre. Though I work for Derby Theatre currently this project will see me producing work as an individual artist with support from ARC, Stockton, Derby Theatre and Deda.

By the end of this phase of the project I aim to have a draft of a script from writer and co-collaborator Nick Wood, made artistic decisions with the creative team and collated feedback through work-in-progress sharing platforms to better inform phase two of the project.

Through working with international dance artist Marc Brew we hope to look at the relationship between a disabled practitioner and non disabled performers with me being a formerly disabled artist.

The piece is autobiographical but by no means is it egotistical nor artistic therapy. I want to use my skills to create work with exciting artists about the positivity and humour of trauma and recovery.

2016 is the centenary of GBS being first diagnosed and we hope to use this to propel awareness of the condition.

You can support the project and GAIN charity by donating here

I am delighted to announce the creative team for ‘GBS’ who bring a mix of qualities, experience and skills to the table.

Creative Team for ‘GBS’ Research & Development

Creative Producer/Performer – Adam Pownall

Movement Director – Marc Brew

Writer – Nick Wood

Director – Tilly Branson

Performer – Kitty Randle

Associate Dramaturg – Luca Rutherford

Sound Design – Adam P. McCready

Artistic Mentor – Sarah Brigham

Producer Mentor – Ruby Glaskin

Marc at Aspire Studio. London, 25.10.04 photo: Andrea Testoni (deatestoni@yahoo.com)

Marc at Aspire Studio. London,
photo: Andrea Testoni

Director Tilly Branson

Director Tilly Branson

Performer Kitty Randle

Performer Kitty Randle

Producer/Performer Adam Pownall

Producer/Performer Adam Pownalll

http://www.gaincharity.org.uk/ http://www.gaincharity.org.uk/

Pleased to announce…


The GBS Project (working title)

I am pleased to announce that the Arts Council have approved my application for funding for the research and development of ‘The GBS Project.

This is the first stage of development of a new piece of small-scale theatre which will happen in November 2015 with a view to gaining further funding to make and tour the production in spring/summer 2016. The piece will be a fusion of new-writing, dance and physical theatre.

GBS stands for Guillain Barre Syndrome, a condition which I contracted  in 2009, I went from normal to fully paralysed in 3 weeks and spent almost 6 months hospitalised, it took 2 years to be able to walk unaided following a lengthy recovery process where I had to learn how to walk, talk and eat again. The journey was long and difficult but my positive attitude, which did often falter, is the reason I was able to make a strong recovery. The story will not be a misery memoir, it will be moving and inspiring and reflective of my humorous personality as I recount stories such as freewheeling to the pub in my wheelchair and the catheter bag dropping out and getting caught in the axel. I used dance to improve my physical condition and would attend dance classes in my wheelchair when possible and not deterred by chronic fatigue. Here is a Blog I wrote about my experience with GBS.

The reason for me taking on this project is to raise awareness of the illness and the charity which supports GBS sufferers and their families, visit their website GAIN for more information on GBS. 2016 is also the centenary of Dr Guillain and Dr Barre diagnosing the condition in France in 1916.

I will be working with and supported by an amazing creative team which will be announced fully in due course. Nottingham based writer Nick Wood has been heavily involved in the planning and application process and must thank him for his support. Nick will now be commissioned to begin writing the play following interviews to gather material with my family, friends and medical professionals who aided my recovery. I am also looking forward to announcing a high profile disabled dance artist who will help me look at the relationship between disabled and non-disabled creative artists being formerly disabled myself.

I have been overwhelmed by support so far and must thank the following organisations who are offering support in various ways. Derby Theatre, Arc in Stockton, Deda, In Good Company,  and of course GAIN. A special mention for Sarah Brigham, Annabel Turpin, Stephen Munn, Ruby Glaskin and Caroline Morrice from each of those organisations respectively.

Hopefully what we create will inspire and inform, we have set up a Just-Giving page and any donations made will go directly to GAIN Charity who are limited by their size and capacity and any donations will be greatly received. https://www.justgiving.com/Adam-Pownall

I cannot wait to get started and will be tracking our progress in blog and vlog format which can be tracked through http://www.twitter.com/adam_Pablo #GBS

When Life Went Limp


When Life went Limp by Adam Pownall

Positivity: being able to stay positive even when you have a real good reason to be negative.

Prior to March 2009 I was always the type to describe myself as a positive person, I liked to think that I strolled through life oozing confidence and being ever the optimist. However, it isn’t until you are dealt a life changing situation that those quite shallow beliefs are truly tested and you have to summon the strength to find a real positivity.

It began one drizzly Sunday morning; I awoke with a slight hangover, though being slightly inebriated the night previous was not the cause of what was to come, it just made the beginnings feel hazier. I went about my usual Sunday with a strange sensation in my feet and toes, they were cold, as if I had slept the entire night with my feet poking from the end of the duvet, it was March so the temperature wasn’t excessively cold but no matter what my feet would not warm up.

I woke the next day, still feeling the same strange sensation in my feet which had spread into my lower legs and the hangover seemed worse, only that morning I hadn’t got a hangover. which clearly turned out to not be the case.

The following day was worse; I now had pain, numbness and a tingling sensation in my legs. I took the day off work and went to see my GP. A brief consultation resulted in him telling me that I had a virus and the pain and lack of sensation in my legs was probably due to a trapped nerve. Over the next few days the decline continued, as did the lack of interest from the doctor’s I had seen. When the pain spread though into my shoulders, arms and neck I knew it wasn’t a trapped nerve. I began to worry, and rightly so. I was a 26 year old active, healthy, young man what was wrong with me?

By the weekend I had collapsed, not a dramatic faint, I simply couldn’t hold up my own body weight anymore. An ambulance was called, arrived within minutes and took me to the local Accident & Emergency.

My decline continued at a pace. By the following Friday my whole body had shut down. I had lost all feeling, sensation to touch, I couldn’t move, I was suffering a pain which felt like the burning of the fire pits in hell.

I lost the ability to communicate. This was the unkindest loss of all.

A nurse in critical care ward would have to blink my eyes, even my eyelids weren’t up for the fight.

I was totally aware in my mind, even though my body wasn’t functioning, I could still think, feel and need but had no way to express. I was “locked in”.

Looking back the moment of my greatest fear was when that Friday my breathing had got so bad that the consultants were telling me they were going to have to operate. They would anaesthetise me and perform a tracheostomy as I could no longer breathe sufficiently for myself. As I waited for my turn in the operating theatre my family had swarmed around. All I could see was their worried faces, the tears rolling down their cheeks, the gentle squeeze of a hand my brother gave my mum. I wanted to tell them I’d be ok, but I wasn’t sure I would be, I wanted to tell them how worried I was, but I couldn’t,  I wanted to tell them I thought I was going to die. I wanted to scream at them to tell them to not look so sad and be supportive, their faces only made my fears worse. In a panic, my mind quickly fabricated the notion that I wasn’t going into theatre, I was actually going to die, why else would they all look so worried? They had made the story up so I didn’t worry. But now I knew. I had caught on to their trick. Still the surgeons said I would be asleep for 2 – 3 days due to the anaesthetic and that I wouldn’t feel any pain for that time. This was a relief even though I still thought it was lies.

SPOILER ALERT I didn’t die.

I woke up the next morning; they had lied to me, what happened to the 2 – 3 days of sleep? A large jovial nurse was the first to find me awake; she smiled with sympathy, and explained I must be a fighter to wake up so soon. Was my mind telling me to wake up to check that I hadn’t died?

I had gone from normal to paralysed in the space of 3 weeks. I was told there was a 95% chance of full recovery from Guillain Barre Syndrome, this rare affliction which had debilitated me. A fear of being permanently scarred by this, or having some sort of disability for the rest of my life gave me inspiration to recover beyond all doubt. Shortly after the operation my decline plateaued for a week or so and thankfully a slow recovery began.

I spent 6 months in hospital in total. The latter 3 were in a rehabilitation ward.

I would spend my time in hospital going through countless physiotherapy sessions, all of which causing excruciating pain due to my nervous system being messed up, I had what is called hypersensitivity, this does not mean I would cry at any picture of a kitten, unfortunately, it meant that I would respond to touch in a variety of extremes,  if a friend, or a nurse grabbed my arm it could either feel like someone was tickling me, or as if  I was being branded by a red hot poker. Even though this prevailed I still gave my all in my sessions to aide my recovery. Even when not in session I would continue to do routine exercises, as movement came back, to pass the long days on hospital wards.

Prior to me getting ill I was a performer and dancer, I had high levels of fitness, being this motionless was unusual for me but with support of the hospital physio team I used dance to aid my recovery. Every Tuesday evening I was allowed to leave the hospital to attend a dance class with friends. I would attend in a wheelchair at first then using walking aides when my movement got better. Even when chronic fatigue meant I spent the much of the day sleeping I would look forward to being able to express again even though it was limited.

My levels of positivity waned throughout my recovery, I would do what I could to get better, there were obviously days where I wanted to give in, I struggled with bouts of depression due to being lonely, feeling like a failure when I couldn’t take more than 5 steps unaided. I was tired, chronically tired. Maybe because I was trying too hard but when you give so much for little return it becomes laborious.

I’m pleased to say that through my positivity and determination I have made an almost full recovery, I still get odd moments of pain in my lower limbs and there is still a small lack of sensation in my feet and toes but physically I am fighting fit again. After coming through this with such a positive arc I reignited my love for playing football, there were times I considered I would never walk again so to be able to play for my team 2 – 3 times a week is something I’m truly thankful for. Through this new found positivity I am probably fitter now as a 32 year old as I ever was. I am an advocate for fitness and wellbeing and use this new level of positivity to inspire others around me.

My personal life has had many changes due to going through the ordeal, I am a real positive person now, and I am thankful for all opportunities and see life in a brighter light. My career has flourished because of this; I am now a theatre producer for a leading regional theatre because of my commitment to making something of a life which was nearly taken away.

For me it wasn’t about trying to fix something that was broken, maybe it was about being given the chance to start over and create something better.

I regularly support GAIN Charity who are the official charity for GBS, and I go and visit any current sufferers I am made aware of to offer them my story as a way of hope and positivity to help them in their ordeal.

Furthermore, I am currently working with playwright Nick Wood amongst a host of other creative artists to begin research and development into making my story into a piece of small scale theatre to raise awareness of the illness and the charity in the UK.

Please visit http://www.gaincharity.org.uk/ to find out more about the illness and help raise awareness.

Adam Pownall is a Theatre Programmer and Producer for a leading regional theatre in the UK, Derby Theatre. In 2014 he won the Olwen Wymark Award for supporting New Writing within Theatre for the Writer’s Guild for his work in opening and running Create Theatre a state of the art studio theatre in Mansfield. He specialises in support of emerging companies, artist development and new writing and is a proud advocate for regional theatre in the East Midlands. Adam has a brief career as a performer, theatre maker and director and is currently about to be producing his own work again to raise awareness of Guillain Barre Syndrome, a condition he was diagnosed with in 2009. The piece will bring together his passion for dance, new-writing, verbatim theatre with a focus on working with disabled artists.