It is seven years since Adam Pownall was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, then being 26 years old; he was a healthy, fit and active young man. Forging himself a career in the arts he was working hard as a performer, project worker and dancer.
He recounts his story as “waking up one morning with what felt like a hangover, my feet were cold and they never warmed up”.
It took three weeks for symptoms to move through his body, resulting in him being ventilated due to full paralysis whilst ICU at Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham under the care of their specialist Neurological department. He spent a further six months in hospital care including rehabilitation in his home town of Mansfield.
It was over two years before he was deemed “fit” and could begin a paused return to work. Since then Adam has progressed his career in theatre becoming the Artistic Director of Lincoln Drill Hall via programming and producer roles with Derby theatre and Create Theatre, Mansfield.
In 2014 Adam was nominated for the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain “Olwen Wymark New Writing Encouragement Award”. Whilst collecting the award from then Chair, Nick Wood, Adam recounted his story with GBS to Nick and from then on they began to hatch a plan to tell this incredible story to help raise awareness of GBS and GAIN charity.
In August 2015 with support from GAIN the “GBS Project” or “Getting Better Slowly” was awarded funding from the Arts Council to research and develop the project. Adam as a creative producer brought together a team of artists to help realise this story. They included regional, national and international artists such as a choreographer Marc Brew, Director Tilly Branson with Nick Wood tasked to write the piece.
The project in it’s first stage was supported by Derby Theatre, Deda Derby and Arc Stockton and the whole team spent time working together in these venues sharing the progress they had made with new audiences.
Director Tilly Branson said, “The thing that really interested me about Adam’s story and the idea to turn it into a piece of theatre is that though it’s a personal story, there are some really universal human themes and questions. I hope that the piece gives the opportunity for the audience to consider how they might respond in those moments if we are not in complete control of what happens to our bodies and our health; whether that’s through illness, an accident or something completely unpredictable.”
“Because our writer has interviewed Adam and some of his friends and family we have verbatim text that we use so we can tell the story from other people’s points of view as well as Adam’s. It’s been really exciting using lots of forms and exploring how they can tell this story; because we are working with ideas and feelings that can’t always be put into words it’s been really useful to consider how sound and dance can show an audience what it feels like to be in a battle with an illness”.
Adam and his team went onto take Getting Better Slowly around the country in front of hundreds of people, being very well received. The show brought attention from national newspapers and Adam was even interviewed on BBC Radio Lincolnshire to talk about the play and his experience of GBS.