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Paul O'Donnell - Dia-Beat-Es Interview

Paul O'Donnell is a type 1 diabetic and has been for 26 years. Paul is also a DJ and his new show Dia-Beat-Es Paul hopes to cross-fade between the two in a mega-mix of music dedicated to the carb counting druggies (insulin) like him.

Coventry-born Paul is taking the show out on a tour that includes a stop at Warwick Arts Centre on Tuesday 7th and Wednesday 8th of February 2023.

I was fortunate enough to speak to Paul to explore the show. 

What inspired you to create Dia-Beat-Es?

It's a show that has been in my head for about five years. I can't quite remember the first time it popped into my head, but I remember that it stuck there for a long time, and when it does that for me it usually means 'I'm onto something'. I'm a big believer in trusting a gut feeling, even if at that point I didn't know in my head why. As I've developed the show I've grown more and more confident in why a cross-over theatrical DJ set and Type 1 Diabetes makes perfect sense - the drug cultures, highs and lows, the discs of the decks and the discs as the blood checker on my arm. It keeps surprising me what crossovers there are between diabetes and DJ-ing.

What got you into DJing and how much does the beat drive forward this show?
I've learnt the skill specifically for this show, driven by the concept of what I was trying to create. The beat, and the lyrics of the chosen songs, are very important to the show. At points, I am talking over beats of the music, at other points in the show Gloria Gaynor, or Afroman or Kylie speak on my behalf. I've reappropriated their words to fit the show, and so the show's text is formed between both me and the music.

Described as a rave/show what can an audience member expect when they see the show?
Dia-Beat-Es is a theatrical DJ set which aims to capture the experience of living as a type 1 diabetic since age 2 whilst mixing in some sweet sweet music such as Because I Got High (blood sugars) or Sweet Dreams. It is a party, it is a personal true story, it is moving at points and a rave at others. And it is from my honest perspective, the perspective of a Type 1 who is nowhere near a perfect Diabetic, or DJ. I think both of those things make me just that little bit more 'human'.

On top of this you will also see a beautiful set and costume design by Abby Clarke and amazing light design work by Rhys Parker.

As a Coventry local, how special is it when you get to play at venues like Warwick Arts Centre on the tour?
I always love bringing shows back home, and Warwick Arts Centre have been very important to my development as an artist. I'm a proud Cov kid and have a very supportive family and friends network in the city. In this show this feels even more important because the voices of my Dad and Cousin (both Type 1 diabetics too), mother and sister feature in the show. Last year I interviewed the four of them and within the set I mix in the audio recordings to help tell the story. I'm excited for them to hear what parts of these quite moving conversations have 'made the cut' but also I think a lot of our wider family and friends don't really know what Type 1 Diabetes is or means. Particularly for people like Mum, who hasn't had to live with the condition herself but has kind of been an accidental carer to both Dad and I.

How has diabetes shaped your life as a performer?
I think it kind of affects every aspect of your life in some way or another, more so in the psychology of the condition which the show very much brings to light. However, Mum and Dad very much brought me up believing that diabetes shouldn't stop me doing anything I want to, and I don't think it does, it just makes it a bit more difficult is all. Whether I happened to be a diabetic or not I can't quite imagine a Paul O'Donnell existence where he is any other than some kind of artist/creative to be honest. Although quite academic in school it was only ever drama or arts that truly excited me. I wish our school systems valued the arts, and our teachers, more.

What do you want an audience member to take away from seeing the show?
Different audiences I hope will get different things from the show. Fellow Type 1 Diabetics I hope will see themselves reflected in a unique way. Family members, partners, carers, friends of type 1's will find themselves appreciated. People who have no connection to Type 1 Diabetes will hopefully learn about the condition in a fun way - for many there is a real confusion with Type 2 diabetes, a real lack of understanding for the daily toll and drain this condition has on an individual and a lack of support for both Type 1 Diabetics, their family, friends and carers. Most of all I hope that everyone will have a fantastically spectacular, pancreas party of a night out that has real heart and a real desire to create a positive change for the 80% of Type 1 Diabetics who are not meeting their doctors three aims for improvement. Just imagine if 20% of GCSE maths students were just... passing. We'd be storming the gates of number 10.

Dia-Beat-Es plays at Warwick Arts Centre on the 7th and 8th of February 2023. The tour also visits Aberystwyth Arts Centre on 16th February, Lighthouse Poole on 25th February, Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester on 3rd March, Edge Hill University in Ormskirk on 14th March, Harrogate Theatre on 15th March and Camden's People Theatre in London from 29th March to 1st April. Visit Paul's website for further details

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