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Danny Braverman

Danny Braverman

Arts and Education Director, Orpheus Centre

When I think about it, I’ve always felt uncomfortable with labels.

When someone asks me how I describe myself, there’s always a nagging feeling that I’m a bit of a fraud.

  • I’m a teacher without a teaching qualification
  • An artist that hasn’t made any work for 4 years
  • A Jew who’s not been barmitzvahed and who’s never been to Israel
  • A leader aware that being a middle-class white man has hardly been a hindrance to career progression – so feeling like I’ve somehow stolen someone else’s place
  • Disabled – but currently facing very few barriers to fulfilling my dreams.

When the country’s finest surgeons rolled their sleeves up and whipped out my large intestine, I was introduced to the delights of stoma-management. It was a significant moment. For the previous 12 years I’d been sabotaged by ulcerative colitis; endlessly on the toilet, weight fluctuations between 10 and 16 stone, high doses of meds, colossal mood swings and very poor stamina. But, I never considered myself disabled – I was ill and going to get better. I then spent four years in and out of hospital – frustrated by a body that wasn’t allowing me to work and very worried whether I’d be working properly again at all, let alone being a leader somewhere. But I did get my strength back very gradually and bluffed my way into a job with the Arts Council to get myself back into the working world.

After a bit of time with the ilesotomy, I started to name myself as disabled. I reasoned that I hit some of the key criteria:

  • Subject to an amputation – albeit one that most people can’t see as it’s internal.
  • Having a bag (not colostomy, but ileostomy – I’m a stickler about the distinction), means that you’re the butt of jokes.
  • Eligible for a radar key.
  • Endlessly being treated as the sum of my condition by doctors (“Nurse Charmers! Can you see to the ileostomy in bed 10!”)
  • Still perpetually knackered

I’ve got used to managing my impairment now. I can usually head off a major bag leak before it happens and have scoped available disabled loos in advance. I’ve yet to experience that icky sensation in the middle of giving a speech – but I’m sure that the Gods of Comedy are saving that up for the remote possibility that I’ll have to give an award acceptance speech at some point.

I’m now running the arts and education programme at the Orpheus Centre. I’m working with young disabled adults learning independent living skills through performing arts. Mostly, our young people have been institutionalised, but want to live independently in the future. The barriers that they face are much greater than my own – the lamentable access on public transport alone infringes their rights on the most basic level to take part in everyday activities.

For me to lead the centre through a period of change, all my adult experience can be used; as a teacher, an artist, an ex-funding officer, project manager etc. But, I hope, the four years I spent experiencing more operating theatres than proscenium arch theatres is also useful. Of course, I’ve got some experiences in common with our young artists, which is very useful. But also, I was forced by my condition to look inwards for many years – my main project was Project Danny: Get Him Healthy. Now my working day is focused on maximising my impact for Orpheus and perhaps I cherish the fantastic opportunity all the more because six years ago it was inconceivable that I’d be in this position.

Danny Braverman 4th June 2008