Culture

How world's first drag troupe with Down's syndrome is breaking boundaries for people with disabilities

With the right support, the arts allow everyone to push the boundaries of what they are capable of, and to get out of their comfort zone

Francis Majekodunmi as Lady Francesca in Girl Meets Boy. Image: Andrea Cerabolini

It’s not easy to make a giant burger costume look chic. But Francis Majekodunmi looks fabulous. 

“It was heavy. The hardest parts [were] the costume changes… two people put the burger on me,” he explains. 

“But when I came out in a golden trolley, all the audience’s faces lit up.” 

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Majekodunmi – also known by his drag name, Lady Francesca – donned the glitter-clad burger at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2023. The internationally renowned showcase is a nerve-wracking gig for any performer. But Majekodunmi is no stranger to the stage. 

As a member of Drag Syndrome – a collective of drag artists with Down’s syndrome – he’s performed at venues all over the country, including the Southbank Centre. 

The world-first troupe “break boundaries” and shrug off pre-conceived expectations about disability. And they have a good time while they do it.

“I like it a lot,” Majekodunmi says. “Touring, getting paid, getting attention from the audience. My favourite thing that I always do is improvising.” 

BLINK Dance Theatre co-directors, Majekodunmi, Rachel Gildea, Delson Weekes and Vicki Hawkins. Image: Roswitha Chesher

Improvisation is big at BLINK Dance Theatre, the radical company which he co-founded and co-directs. Established in 2013, the neurodiverse-led company are dedicated to “relentless inclusivity”. Theatre, their mission statement reads, is key to a “world without barriers”. 

“It’s for everyone,” Majekodunmi says. Aisha Edwards – a friend and colleague at BLINK – agrees wholeheartedly. The 29-year-old is playing Evil Butterfly in the company’s latest show, BEAT-FLYS. Developed in collaboration between BLINK and Beatbox Academy, the show promises to take adults with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD) on a “fantastical journey”. 

“Turns out, I can do beat-boxing,” Edwards laughs. “I’ve learned that about myself. 

“It’s a sensory show – we’re going to try out different things.” 

Edwards’ learning disability means she processes information differently. But the right support enables her to feel totally at home on stage. 

“My memory is pretty sharp, but I can struggle with cues,” she says. “BLINK have made a visual timetable for me, so I remember which part we’re at and the show doesn’t get jumbled together.” 

With the right support, the arts allow everyone to push the boundaries of what they are capable of, and to get out of their comfort zone. It’s not always easy – but it’s immensely rewarding. Majekodunmi beams as he recalls a particular performance he gave while studying for his diploma in performance making from Central School of Speech and Drama in London. 

“Nick [a teacher at Central] gave me this monologue. And he told me to read it live, and I did it. By myself,” he says. “I said some wonderful words to the audience. I did that by myself.” 

Art provides everyone with the opportunity to express themselves. But too often, people with learning disabilities feel that the creative world is shut to them. BLINK Dance Theatre want to change that. When Edwards and Majekodunmi talk about their work, their passion is obvious. 

Aisha Edwards in rehearsals for BEAT_FLYS. Image: Jon Archdeacon

“With BLINK, people in the audience see the show and think, ‘I can do that,’” Edwards explains. 

“There’s hope, you know. And if we can bring hope into shows, get people laughing and bubbly, then job well done.” 

“When we do a big BLINK show all together, we talk to the audience after,” adds Majekodunmi. “They light up.” 

In addition to their packed performance schedule, BLINK Dance Theatre run multi-sensory dance and drama workshops for kids. By using games, pictures, and squishy toys, they make it as accessible as possible. To connect with children, Edwards explains, it’s important to be flexible. 

“They might have autism, or be visually impaired, so you adapt,” she says. “If they want to get up and jump, I’ll do that with them. If they want to sit around and roll around on the floor, I’ll do that with them. If you’re working with kids, you have to be like that. I love it. I get to be in their world and see what goes on in their brains.” 

Majekodunmi in BLINK Dance Theatre production Elvis Died of Burgers.
Image: Roswitha Chesher

Majekodunmi prefers working with adults. He “teaches the teachers,” helping them understand best practice for working with SEN children. The arts allow many of these students to flourish, and to be themselves. This is something both artists have experienced first-hand. 

“I find it very easy, I like it,” Majekodunmi says. “I have a drag act. You can get glam, you tell the makeup artist what you want, what colours you want. You can wear different things, you can pick a different outfit you want to wear.” 

Edwards finds it easy too – and onstage, she has the space to believe in herself. 

“When I’m performing, I can just be me. I don’t have to pretend I’m something I’m not,” she says. 

“I can be different, I can be whatever. It’s going to sound bizarre, but I feel most relaxed when I’m performing. I feel most myself.” 

Support BLINK Dance Theatre, or find out more about their SEND teacher training and workshops.

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