Tag Archives: imove

Olympic Questions: Further responses to LeanerFasterStronger

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Kathryn Dimery. Photo by Amanda Crowther

We are approaching the end of the run of LeanerFasterStronger at Sheffield Crucible, and have had a fantastic response to the work in the regional press, on twitter, and via the Guardian and Sheffield theatres’ website. This is the start of a period of reflection for me – what lessons might be learnt? How much of my initial ambitions and intentions have I achieved?

When I was approached by Chol Theatre with this commission, I had no interest  in sport outside watching Wales vs Ireland in international rugby matches, and no experience of participating other than representing Birmingham in the high jump as an over-excitable twelve year old. I’m a collaborator, not a competitor, so I wanted to understand this drive to succeed – highlighted by the strap line: ‘How far would you go to be the best?’ This was particularly important in relationship to commerce, sponsorship, and big business – the commercialisation of sport and the commodification of our athletes.

Apart from individual athlete characters and their pressures and challenges, I wanted to explore the bioethical issues around human enhancement, sports science, bio- and genetic engineering.

The internet has broadened the field of interaction, commentary and criticism, encouraging dialogue and discussion. Having access to members of the audience’s thoughts and reactions via chats in the bar after the show, to their online comments, can be tremendously useful to a dramatist. It allows a panoply of responses, from the professional critic to the amateur enthusiast, from fellow playwrights and theatre makers to the novice or occasional theatre-goer, perspectives from all walks of life, including sports engineers and elite athletes, the subject and focus of much of the script.

The timing of the production has been pertinent – many have commented on how some of the issues in the production will throw a long shadow across the upcoming Games:

‘…it’s a show bound up with the impending Olympics and the coverage surrounding that,’

the poet Andrew McMillan says on the Sheffield Theatres website:

‘…we’re all invited to be part of the Olympics through all mediums, radio, film, tv, even adverts now, the immersive nature of the piece, casting the audience as delegates watching conversations unfold, to me just simply continued this invitatiom to the Olympics, but examined sides to sport which might not readily be discussed. We debated some of the issues on the train ride home, and that is all an piece of theatre can really hope to achieve…’

http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/leanerfasterstronger-12/


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Ben Addis. Photo by Amanda Crowther.

‘As the Olympic torch moves around the country, I’ll be thinking and talking about LeanerFasterStronger’

playwright Richard Hurford wrote on the Guardian theatre blog: http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2012/jun/01/stage-reader-reviews-georgie-sinatra?INTCMP=SRCH

For me LeanerFasterStronger was a powerful and refreshing example of theatre which not only has something genuinely important to say, but also cares enough about its subject matter to say it in a direct and uncompromising way.

I’m no sports expert and I know little about biotechnology, but like everyone else I’m currently experiencing what it’s like to live in an Olympics host nation. The play rises above the hype, the hard sell and the emotional aerobics to offer a welcome, provocative perspective on the bigger picture. It’s no easy ride and you have to work hard to keep up, which feels appropriate given the themes of the piece. The text is sophisticated, witty and fierce and keeps on throwing out ideas at a relentless pace. However, it’s always accessible and illuminating and not about trying to beat an audience into submission. Rather it’s about encouraging us to keep on pushing forward to consider what actually lies beyond the finishing line, not just for the sporting life, but also for the human race.

The production sticks to the courage of its convictions by placing the text firmly at the centre, intelligently and subtly supported and enhanced by the other theatrical elements to create an effective unity. The moments when the full on debates are invaded by emotionally charged fragments of athletes’ lives -particularly the exchanges between the brother and sister torn apart by the demands of his all-consuming talent – are startling and disturbing. Throughout there’s a sustained and detailed physical underscoring, which at times bursts into the foreground with explosions of intense physical exertion, suddenly thrusting the close-up spectacle of bodies sweating and muscles straining into the faces of the audience.

The theatrical container of a sports conference and specifically the late night boozy discussions of a clutch of delegates from different sports sectors – importantly none of them are athletes and only the hanger-on boyfriend of one of the women seems to participate in any actual sporting activity – provides a clever vehicle to raise and wrangle over the issues on an informed and expert level. It had all the feel of one of those councils of the gods which regularly crop up in Greek myths in which the immortals bicker, throw tantrums and settle personal scores, while casually deciding the fates of humankind with lofty and chilling disdain. Like those immortals the sports delegates have little connection and less interest in what really happens down on the ground, in the stadia, boxing rings, locker rooms, lives and minds of the athletes whose fates and futures they’re shaping over another bottle of wine.

LeanerFasteStronger treats its audience with respect, while insisting we do our bit too. Theatre can engage us through the stories and the experiences of characters, but there’s also a place for plain-speaking. This is one of those occasions and the approach works for the complexity of the subject matter. Some might be tempted by a more conventional dramatic development of the athletes’ stories, but I appreciated the fact that the play kept leading me back to the debate and kept me focused on the ideas rather than lost in the drama.

I really value theatre which leaves me with something I can use in the real world and this is a seriously useful piece of work. As the Olympic torch moves around the country, I’ll be thinking and talking about LeanerFasterStronger.’

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Morven Macbeth. Photo by Amanda Crowther

Many people, including Jane Lloyd Francis, have commented on how they feel the issues in the play will have more relevance after the Olympics and Paralympics are over.

I was honoured when Paralympians Steve Judd and Suzannah Rockett Coughlan attended the performance. They were involved in my research  (see earlier blog: https://kaiteoreilly.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/leanerfasterstronger-a-week-of-olympians-and-paralympians/).

In an email after the show Suzannah said:

It was such an intense play with almost every possible emotion I have had in relation to my sport.
I must confess I found the scene regarding the end of ones career  particularly poignant, as this is an area the public rarely see or to be honest care about as the next star is ready to replace them. Also the family scene was significant and again an area which is rarely touched upon.

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Christopher Simpson. Photo by Amanda Crowther.

Such an honest and engaged response from an elite athlete is humbling as well as gratifying, for through Suzannah’s response I know I have achieved one of my intentions. I sought to tell less familiar stories around sport which revealed the particular stresses of being the national hope for gold.

I will continue reviewing the process, script, production, and response over the coming days and weeks, and give sincere thanks to those who have taken the time and effort to enter this dialogue between spectacle and spectator.

Finally, some thoughts from Julie Armstrong, who reviewed the show for the Sheffield Telegraph:

Sheffield Telegraph, Thursday May 31, 2012  Julia Armstrong

A STRIKING tableau greets the audience as they enter the auditorium, with the four actors striking sporting poses while balancing on stage blocks. This is the shape of things to come as the actors combine fluidity of movement, including rearranging the performance space, with words that move fast through various scenarios. The actors take on different roles to explore issues of what sacrifices elite sportspeople and their loved ones make, at how pure sport really is in our money-driven world and at how technologies could affect sporting achievement and all of our lives.

As part of the city’s contribution to the artistic response to the London 2012 Olympics, Kaite O’Reilly’s new play is a beautifully written and timely examination of issues that have far-reaching consequences beyond the sporting arena, perhaps even as to what it will mean to be human in the future. This is a chilling prospect as she says in her programme notes that she has been looking at the future of real elite sport science.

On a more intimate level, the actors Ben Addis, Kathryn Dimery, Morven Macbeth and Christopher Simpson perform compellingly as individuals and a team to look at what all this means for the people involved, from the athlete whose sister says his pursuit of his Olympic dream has damaged their whole family to the boxer who constantly pushes mind and body to the limit. A smooth-talking sports promoter hangs around in the background like a vulture assured of a next easy meal, ready to drop a star who is past their best.

“Fantastic feedback for LeanerFasterStronger.”

Ben Addis in LeanerFasterStronger, Crucible Studio until June 2nd.

Delighted to find the following on the Sheffield Theatres website: http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/about/news/news/leanerfasterstronger-receives-fantastic-feedback/

LeanerFasterStronger opened in the Studio last Friday, receiving some fantastic feedback from audiences and the press. Having been Lyn Gardner’s pick of the week for The Guardian two-weeks running, the Sheffield Star found this ‘smart new play’ both ‘engaging’ and ‘eye-opening’ praising the ‘dynamic cast’, ‘innovative set design’ and ‘Andrew Loretto’s slick direction’ as well as ‘Kaite O’Reilly’s agile script’ which ‘bristles with detail gleaned from impeccable research’

The Disability Arts Online review echoes The Star’s warm reception, writing: ‘LeanerFasterStronger presents a fascinating glimpse into a brave new world. It certainly provides plenty of food for thought. So go and get your mind enhanced!’

Audiences are also enthusing about the production, finding it both engaging and thought-provoking:

‘to have not only a brand new play, but a play about elite sports, with subliminal Olympic but challenging messages was quite unexpected…we talked all the way home in the car about the ‘layers’ of message it gave us!’ 
            Judith Donovan, Legacy Trust

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‘Fascinating and superbly acted’ @andyroo84

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‘#LeanerFaster [is] very powerful! Go see!’ @hjfeathers

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‘Intriguing stuff…[presenting] big ideas and human questions’ @tgordziejko

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‘Fascinating & dynamic show with an amazing cast!’ @laurajanehamlet

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‘Had a fab night…watching LeanerFasterStronger…go see it!’ @becci_hooper

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‘there’s a depth of research and thought that makes it like watching a dynamic conversation…the script makes its arguments provocatively…Powerful performances, persuasive language…get down there before it closes on Sat’ 
Posted on Sheffield Theatres website

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‘The staging of the piece, the choreography of it [and] the physicality of the actors was very well realised…The climax…seemingly speaks about the ultimate strength and weakness of man [and the play] examined sides to sport which might not readily be discussed…We debated some of the issues on the train ride home, and that is all a piece of theatre can really hope to achieve’ 
Posted on the Guardian website

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Inspired by the 2012 Olympic Games, the play has caught the attention of the sporting community too, and we’re excited to welcome diver Tom Daley’s mentor and Olympic silver-medalist Leon Taylor to see the performance later this week, himself tweeting that he is ‘look[ing] forward to catching the performance’.

LeanerFasterStronger runs until Sat 2 June, telling the story of one man’s pursuit to be the best, asking the questions: what does it take to achieve our ambitions? What sacrifices are we prepared to make?

Catch it while you can!

Ouch! podcast: Is a disabled cyborg the future of elite sport?

LeanerFasterStronger: is a disabled cyborg the future of elite sport?

From  http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ouch/2012/05/leanerfasterstronger

Disabled playwright and author Kaite O’Reilly, who is one of the guests on the next edition of Ouch!’s disability talk show (due online towards the end of May), was approached by Chol Theatre to write a play about sport and the human experience as part of imove, Yorkshire’s cultural programme for the London 2012 Olympics. The resulting play, LeanerFasterStronger, opens at Sheffield’s Crucible Studio theatre today, Wednesday 23 May, and runs through to Saturday 2 June.

For background research, Kaite carried out detailed interviews with scientists and elite sportspeople, and also experimented in motion capture labs – where disabled and non-disabled performers saw their bodies moving as a sequence of animated dots which she says were “freed from the preconceptions that go along with viewing the same body moving in the real world”.

She became very interested in genetic and bio-engineering of humans as a species – even the idea of a ‘cyborg’.

In this guest post for Ouch!, Kaite O’Reilly looks at how this emerging science could influence the possible future of both disabled and non-disabled elite sport – which is also the focus for her play, LeanerFasterStronger.

Will we ever reach the point where impairments are ‘cured’, or ‘fixed’ in vitro? People have asked me about my stance on these developments and, as someone who culturally identifies as a disabled person and a disability artist, I know well how complex and emotive the subject can be. Yet in the context of elite sport – and the fictional world of the play I have written – other avenues open up.

As the strapline for the show goes: How far would you go to be the best? Cheat? Dope? Enhance yourself biologically to be LeanerFasterStronger than your competitors? The reality is that we may fast be approaching a glass ceiling about what humans can ‘naturally’ achieve. Elite sport is big business, and the play asks whether we can expect to continue breaking records and ‘improving’ every year without a little ‘help’?

In the 1980s, women’s athletics went through a golden period when phenomenal records were set. Decades on, those records have not been matched or beaten. The turnaround came with the introduction of dope testing. Since those (cheating?) halcyon days, women’s athletics have apparently slipped down the scale in popularity. In athletics, it seems that spectators want a spectacle, to be inspired and excited. Watching people fail to come anywhere near a world record set thirty years ago just doesn’t cut it.

There is an argument that sport tests what is possible for humans to do – it favours the ‘Übermensch’ – the idealised, ‘perfect’ human being. The commercial side of sport is reliant on new records being broken, showing more thrills and spectacle, to keep the fans involved. Various sports journalists I spoke with while researching the play said that the real excitement and focus in 2012 will be on the Paralympics. Coverage of Oscar Pistorius and his carbon ‘blades’ fills many column inches, and he has become a poster-boy for the future – the next exciting development in sport.

This then offered a perspective to me: what if, in the future, the ‘ideal’ athlete is one who has impairments and who can benefit from the speed of Pistorius, ‘the fastest man in the world on no legs’ as the New York Times described him? Developments in wheelchair racing and cycling have the bone inserting directly into the frame – ‘bone melding with steel’. LeanerFasterStronger asks whether, for a spectacle-seeking audience, the future ultimate sportsperson may in fact be a disabled one.

LeanerFasterStronger: Researching a role: writer Kaite O’Reilly’s and performer Morven Macbeth’s perspectives.

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The wonderful Olga Korbut. 

Two perspectives on researching a role: Playwright Kaite O’Reilly and performer Morven Macbeth:

Kaite O’Reilly writes:

Olga Korbut. 1972. I was too young to really appreciate the radical impact she had on gymnastics, winning four gold medals and two silver, performing dangerous leaps and flips never before presented in competition; yet I think she was in the back of my mind when I decided to write a gymnast character in LeanerFasterStronger.

The character, called simply Gymnast, is not Olga Korbut, nor any of the athletes I interviewed or researched. Rather, she is a composite, with added imagination run wild.

Of all the sportspeople I interviewed when writing the play, the gymnasts left the longest lasting impression. It is partly to do with the concentration, the focus, the maturity, and the daily passing through the pain threshold from an early age which perturbed and tantalised, adding substance, even gravitas to such slender, slight forms. All gymnasts I spoke with had grace and eloquence, and an unusual understanding of the body, its functions and how to surpass its apparent limitations. They also seemed astonishingly light – not just with the weightlessness with which they seemed to pass through the world, but in their energy, how they conversed, in their smiles. I found the juxtaposition of this lightness with a close but detached scrutiny of their bodies – as though they were ‘stepped out of them’ – fascinating and disturbing.

When I’m creating work that is researched and not fully from my imagination, I allow myself to respond to the stimulus around me. I won’t reproduce interviewees’ stories (this is problematic for me when I am credited as the writer of a fiction), but I allow whatever impacted or impressed itself on me to find its way through in the character’s language. It’s about perception and perspective – how these different creatures view the world, and themselves in it. This starts creating a world-view I can then individualise and make specific to that invented character.

Character is revealed in scripts through language and vocabulary, through action and interaction, by what others in the world of the play say about the figure, or how they react to them. I write a blueprint, an outline for the actor to fill, something which I hope is rich with clues and guidance on how to approach this particular individual – but it is then down to the actor to give the invention breath, and step into that skin.

Morven Macbeth writes:

One of the 3 characters I play in LFS is simply called ‘Gymnast’.  She has some of my favourite lines in the whole script but I was very aware of my need to do some focussed research on this one!

Scottish gymnast Louise Mearns very kindly agreed to meet me for a coffee to talk about her passion, what inspired her to begin gymnastics and how she feels, what she experiences now as a young woman still taking part in the sport having switched aged 13 from Artistic Gymnastics to competing in TeamGym.

What got her started was a combination of watching gymnastics on the telly, her brother’s physiotherapy sessions as child with cerebral palsy and her own love of ballet and tap dancing.  Louise said that she ‘begged’ her parents to let her try gymnastics.

We talked, myself, Louise and her boyfriend Kenney Collins (also a gymnast) for nearly two hours and certain things really stand out for me as I go through the pages of notes I scribbled down as we talked:

PAIN – ABILITY TO RECOGNISE GOOD PAIN FROM BAD PAIN – THAT GYMNASTS ARE OFTEN IN CONSTANT PAIN, IT’S HOW YOU DEAL WITH IT.

INJURY, EVEN IF OUT FOR A SHORT TIME YOU’RE LOST – MASSIVELY DEMORALISING.  YOU LOSE SO MUCH STRENGTH, FITNESS FROM EVEN A SHORT BREAK BESIDES THE LOSS OF ROUTINE, THE SOCIAL ASPECT, BEING AWAY FROM FRIENDS, YOUR COACH.  AND AS FOR THOUGHTS OF THE FUTURE?  ARTHIRITIS?  ‘AH WELL – I’M NOT GOING TO LIVE IN FEAR’.

TRUST – THAT YOU TRUST THE COACH LITERALLY WITH YOUR LIFE

RELEASE – THE SENSE OF RELEASE FROM THE SPORT.  THE JOY, THE PLEASURE OF THE ABILITY TO DO SOMETHING THAT THE VAST MAJORITY OF PEOPLE CAN’T.

CAREER WINDOW – THE FEMALE ARTISTIC GYMNAST’S CAREER IS OFTEN OVER BY 21 SO 6 YEARS AT BEST OF COMPETING.

PERSONAL QUALITIES REQUIRED – YOU NEED HIGH PAIN THRESHOLD, DETERMINATION, PATIENCE, SELF-MOTIVATION, FEARLESSNESS

LeanerFasterStronger

A Sheffield Theatres and Chol Theatre Co-Production

Wed 23 May – Sat 2 June 2012 http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/leanerfasterstronger-12/

LeanerFasterStronger, a week to opening: interviews and vox pop.

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Kaite O’Reilly, Dr Dave James and Andrew Loretto.

It’s a week now until the public dress rehearsal of LeanerFasterStronger at Sheffield Theatre’s Crucible Studio, and so preparations and publicity are stepping up. The Sheffield press have been delighted to discover I’m a graduate of the University, and there is some satisfaction in returning to the city and the theatre I attended frequently as a student, with my own production.

imove have produced some trailers for the project, short vox pops with director Andrew, co-producers Susan Burns and Dr Dave James, and myself. Please click on the following links for short videos on the production, from very different perspectives:

Kaite O’Reilly: http://vimeo.com/34130135
Andrew Loretto:  http://vimeo.com/34131024
Susan & Dave: http://vimeo.com/34127106

In certain contexts, I believe it’s important for the playwright to be around early in the rehearsal process to address any issues or queries with the script, but then to withdraw, and allow the company to make the work their own. In previous productions I’ve felt my presence in the room has thrown too long a shadow – the cast have wanted to please me and my notions of who the characters might be rather than freely discover their own interpretations. It’s time, then, to go. Unless we’re following a different process of continual co-creating, I will usually leave rehearsals during the second week of rehearsals, returning in production week with fresh eyes to respond to the work.

With the fantastic LeanerFasterStronger ensemble we have had a different dynamic, as from day one the cast’s ideas have impacted on the final revisions of the script. I saw a ‘stagger through’ on day nine of rehearsals before departing. I’m returning later this week to see a run, and am incredibly excited about seeing the work after a week. All the feedback from the rehearsal floor has been overwhelmingly positive, and I can’t wait to experience the work with the added layers of  Shanaz’s video projections and design, and Shane’s soundtrack.


LeanerFasterStronger: collaboration between science and the arts

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Dr Dave James welcoming the company to the Centre.

It’s the first week of rehearsals for LeanerFasterStronger at Sheffield Theatres, and director Andrew has organised a company outing to The Centre for Sports Engineering Research at Sheffield Hallam University.

The project is a fascinating collaboration between scientists and theatre practitioners, part of imove, the Cultural Olympiad for Yorkshire.

In posts last year I wrote about the research residency Chol and Sheffield theatres had at the Centre for Sports Engineering Research, getting access to the motion capture lab’ and other sports science technologies, exploring movement and our attitudes to our disabled and non-disabled bodies.  https://kaiteoreilly.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1034&action=edit

Now, we’re back – the actors who will be portraying the characters I created informed by my research here and elsewhere, supported by the ever-enthusiastic Dr Dave James.

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Entering the lab’

The meeting is a crash course in Sports Science and human enhancement for the actors. It’s a context I’ve become familiar with over the past twelve months and Dr Dave James fields questions on blood doping, enhancement, and other issues the script touches on.

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Morven 

It’s fascinating seeing lines which I wrote informed by bioethics becoming dialogue between diverse but credible characters. When Chol first approached me with the commission, I never thought saying yes would lead me to a biomechanics and sport engineering laboratory.

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It has been a rich experience, collaborating with so many partners, and I’ve particularly enjoyed the challenge of taking academic material regarding human enhancement, placing it within a sports context, and endeavouring to make theatre from it.

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Kathryn in the gym

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World Premiere and writing workshop by Kaite O’Reilly

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World Premiére of New Olympics-Inspired Play

Sheffield Theatres press release:  10 April 2012

Warm up to the London 2012 Olympic Games celebrations with Sheffield Theatres and Chol Theatre’s co-production of LeanerFasterStronger, premièring in the Crucible Studio Theatre from Wednesday 23 May – Saturday 2 June.

Written by Kaite O’Reilly, winner of the Ted Hughes Award for Poetry in 2010, and directed by Sheffield Theatres’ Creative Producer Andrew LorettoLeanerFasterStronger is a darkly-humorous and provocative theatre experience that explores the limits of what being human means. Set in-the-round in the Crucible Studio Theatre, different characters examine the themes of enhancement, new science and bioengineering and ask the question, how far would you go to be the best?

A new collaboration with neighbouring Chol Theatre in association with iMove, this new production will be brought to life by four young performance artists doubling as multiple characters. Acclaimed interactive media artist, Shanaz Gulzar (Transform season at West Yorkshire Playhouse), will design the show which will feature real-time film projections, with lighting design from Gary Longfield (Lives in Art and Peter Pan) and sound design from Shane Durrant (Thirsty).

LeanerFasterStronger writer Kaite O’Reilly said: ‘When I was a student in Sheffield during the early mid 80s, Sheffield Theatres was a major landmark on my cultural horizon. As an aspiring theatre practitioner, it was somewhere I went to learn, to be provoked, entertained and to be inspired. Returning after twenty years and having my own work on in the Crucible Studio Theatre, that I attended so frequently, is quite wonderful. I hope that LeanerFasterStronger will continue the tradition for emerging practitioners and audiences alike.’

As part of the season, on Tuesday 29 May at 6.00pm Kaite O’Reilly is running a workshop for aspiring playwrights aged 18 years and over. Tickets cost £10.00, for more information call the Box Office on 0114 249 6000.

LeanerFasterStronger forms part of Extraordinary Moves, an exciting arts and science partnership between Chol Theatre, Sheffield Hallam University and iMove, Yorkshire’s Cultural Olympiad programme. For iMove, Sheffield Hallam University are also hosting a series of Olympic inspired events including a panel discussion with Paralympic athletes (25 April), an Olympic Games guest event in association with BBC Radio Sheffield and a unique opportunity to ‘Meet the Olympic Commentators’ (9 May). For more information visit www.shu.ac.uk/events. Site Gallery are also premièring a new thought-provoking exhibition by artist Jason Minsky.

Tickets for LeanerFasterStronger are on sale now from Sheffield Theatres’ Box Office, priced £10.00 – £15.00.