The creativity of young people with learning disabilities placed at the heart of the cultural life of Coventry and Birmingham, increasing its diversity and encouraging different ways of being: the OTI programme explores this possibility through a unique theatre practice called shystering that celebrates, challenges and transforms

Facts and Figures

Over 300 young people with learning disabilities are engaged in our current programme of work

Our work has received national and international recognition. 

We are a registered charity – you can donate directly to our work here


amazing, simple, effective, fun’

‘the results have far exceeded expectations: students have shown exceptional development.’

‘one of the most artistically inspiring experiences I have had’

‘we have seen stunning results in all our classes and we now see it as a core activity in our curriculum’
More here here


We have photograph gallery on the “Pinterest” website. To view the gallery,
click here

OTI Programme

The Open Theatre Interactive programme of work operates principally in Coventry and Birmingham and is run by Open Theatre Company. The programme directly engages young people with learning disabilities in its theatre practice ‘shystering’ The programme has been established over the past two years and is still growing. It is planned to last at least five years and achieve a significant impact on the cultural opportunities for a large number of young people with learning disabilities in Coventry and Birmingham.

Shystering is an interactive, non-verbal, physical theatre practice crafted from the creativity of people with learning disabilities that enabled The Shysters Theatre Company to create productions that were ‘surreal, beautiful, mesmerising, on the borderlines of theatre, dance and mime, physical theatre at its best’. Shystering has since then also proved not just to have a significant impact on children and young people’s learning within the school curriculum, but on developing the skills, abilities and qualities that these young people need to survive and thrive in the ‘real’ world.

Much of the OTI programme starts within special school settings where the first links with children and young people with learning disabilities can be made. Projects are developed in response to the specific needs, interests and ambitions of these young people and the particular schools involved. These projects often happen regularly over a period of one or two terms and engage staff as well as students in the work. The OTI work in schools has grown out of long-term sustained engagement with special schools over past ten years.

After this initial contact and building of relationships with the schools and the young people, the OIT programme looks for ways in which to establish cultural provision for these young people outside of the school context – with the many arts organisations in the two cities. The OTI programme pursues this objective intensively in Birmingham with Birmingham Hippodrome, and in Coventry within a network of the Belgrade Theatre, The Herbert Museum and Art Gallery and with Warwick Arts Centre.

With these organisations OTI pilots the creation of theatre and performing arts-based projects as well as opportunities for work placements, volunteering, apprenticeships, and staff training involving young people. For example OTI in partnership with Birmingham Hippodrome has established ‘One Of A Kind’ Theatre Company, which currently has 15 members – young people with learning disabilities aged 16 and above – to create performance work. With Birmingham Hippodrome, OTI are now looking at ways to establish satellite groups at the outer edges of the city to create more opportunities.

OTI is the third major programme of work that OTC has undertaken in its 30 year history and has been developed from the work that OTC started in one primary special school in Coventry. The previous programmes were firstly the development of community plays (1984 -2001), and the second was the establishment of the Shyster Theatre Company (1997-2011). OTC developed its unique theatre practice ‘shystering’ through the work of, the Shysters Theatre Company and the Shyster Shadows during the period 1997 – 2011. The development of the unique theatre practice of ‘shystering’ enabled the creation of a distinctive and unique theatre aesthetic that draws on the creativity of actors with learning disabilities. ``OTC has been run by Richard Hayhow since 1990. OTC continues to operate within a broad remit of advocating and challenging perceptions and practice around learning disabilities within the arts –see more about this on the partners page