By Maria Oshodi
[Tim as Cataracto in Sheer, dressed in white fishnets and holding up a pink balloon]
In February we lost one of Extant’s cornerstones. For over 15 years Tim Gebbles had been a long-term actor, consultant, trainer and friend to the Company.
From almost the very start of the formation of Extant, he took part in many performance research sessions that pushed the envelope on how we can be more effective as blind performers in theatre.
He also engaged with campaigning on how to improve the way we experience theatre as blind audiences,
And then of course he performed in many of our shows and touring productions including Obscurity, Sheer, Flatland and The Chairs.
[Tim and Liam addressing the crowd in outdoor performance of obscurity]
He was part of the fabric of our company, living geographically close to our Oval office, always at the end of a phone line or email to run an idea by, to seek advice from, or up for embarking on some new artistic adventure of ours.
Tim uniquely embodied the spirit necessary for this, along with the sharpest of intellects, the capacity for brutal honesty, and the will to truly challenge himself and others. This was not more evident than in the following ways:
When he agreed to learn to strip, as a character that he played in one of our burlesque shows
Or when he crept up on an unsuspecting audience during one of our site specific productions set in a pitch dark church
Or took on the enormous role last year of playing The Old Man in our tour of Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist play The Chairs. This was a monumental role for any actor both textually and physically, but especially so for a totally blind actor who was required to authentically respond to lots of invisible characters on stage. It was a challenge that Tim met wholeheartedly and triumphed in.
[Tim as Old Man in The Chairs, sitting and leaning through the porthole window]
In particular over the years I remember with warmth….
Us laughing uncontrollably as we re-created from Jaws speech software, the voice of Stephen Hawking to use in a sketch, and trying in different ways to get ‘Stephen’ to do a manic laugh, which took ages to perfect.
Tim trying to teach me Backgammon and him being in despair over my lack of appreciation for the game he loved, together with his incomprehension of my dismissal of Doctor Who, which he revered.
Tim reading the braille on our flyers for the Sheer tour and flagging that the telephone number for the Extant office was right but the dial code was wrong, and that if I checked where the brailled number connected me to, I’d get a shock. Indeed, I did when I was put through to an adult X-rated line.
His love of horses and dogs, and being the exemplary guide dog owner, always bringing his own blanket and water bowl into the rehearsal room for his dog, shaming me and my forgetful habits. However, he would always be there to give fair supportive advice in his role as Guide Dog service users’ rep for London, as well as always kindly reaching out, either during times of personal tragedy or to give general moral support.
[Still from Tim’s Show Real Video, standing against a black background while delivering his speech]
The loss of Tim is still gradually sinking in. Bit by bit we are becoming aware of what it truly means. It certainly is to be the poorer without his fierce intelligence, his passion, commitment, talent, openness, warmth and decency, all laced with a lacerating dry wit, but most of all his collaborating spirit of adventure, that has left us with its artistic, resonating unforgettable mark.
Thank you, Tim.