Raspberry Ripple Theatrical Training – Integrated Day 16 January 2018

Eva Sifis

Our day began in a familiar fashion, each sharing our experiences, however, today our experiences centred around our individual experience of disability. Whether it was personal or familiar, everyone had encountered disability in their lives. I think that is indicative of most of society.
In addition to yesterday’s group of me, Fayen D’Evie, Rachael Edmonds, Sonia Marcon, we were joined by AB’s (Able Bods) Bryony Wilson, Will McRostie, Milly Cooper and visiting from Sydney for the day was Emele Uguvale. Each and every one experienced theatre or arts practitioners; I can speak for every one when I say we were champing at the bit for conversation. Kate Hood threw ‘provocations’ and we eagerly entered the fray.
Kate’s shorthand for those of us with disability present is ‘PWD’ (Person With Disability) but it should be ‘AWD’ marking us as the Artists we are. I shared how early in the piece of my dance with disability, how reluctant I was to use the word DISability, preferring ALTability. The question was asked “Why all the Dissing?” Indeed.
We talked about Western Culture and differences with other cultures; How the Binary is so apparent in our consciousness – Us and Them, Him and Her, Able and Not. Alongside this concept rests the fact I feel we have a schooling of passivity latent in our upbringing, in that there seems to be an eternal superior to be looked up to, to direct us, to school us, to tell us what to do. Raspberry Ripple thinks it is the responsibility of People/Artists with a Disability to lead the discussions. It is up to us to educate away from preconceptions and assumptions about our inherent worth.
Talk veered towards the necessary changes in the industry to overcome the barriers placed in our ways as a matter of course.
Will led us through an introduction to Audio Description (where spectacles such as performances are described for those with visual impairments in plain language through an audio loop) and the paradigms inherent within this service that is largely offered by AB’s. Fayen D’Evie, a visual artist with visual impairment spoke up here. She protested the accepted format of Audio Description, favouring instead a form of description that focused on a character’s intent rather than their visual appearance.
The importance of this discussion was obvious to all and when, later, there was the opportunity for a demonstration of this, I have to admit it made sense to me. Like anything though, it depends on context and as with most things, some people like one way whereas others another. There exist inflexible processes and comparisons betwixt the attitudes of years gone by and the current awakening of the voice of lived experience.
What needs to be encouraged is transparency of communication together with much needed collaboration. Personally I am fascinated to see what may eventuate.
As an artist with a disability many barriers are present to the continuation of our craft and this is something that is not even thought about in the wider sphere. It is so important to nurture the education and opportunities of AWD. We all agreed the notion of ‘Gratitude’ is a many faceted bomb lying in our midst and her we spoke about who gets to take a risk – the more privilege you have, the easier it is. Everyone has fear but disability adds yet another level to this.
The conversation needs to be extended to include disability. Authentic Representation was spoken about. That is disabled people playing disabled people on screen. Now here’s an opportunity to throw a side-swipe; how about disabled people playing people who aren’t necessarily written to BE disabled? How about that then?? Imagine the shift in conversation and awareness that would lie when a traditional role is shifted to a disabled one. How much more interesting or even better could that make a show?
Opportunities to play roles are taken from artists with disabilities by more ‘famous’ people cripping up to put bums on seats. The argument is used that if there was a chance to put a disabled person in that role it would be taken however what isn’t taken into account are the barriers inherent for PWD. Most auditions are not held in accessible venues. PWD have an inability to be schooled through lack of funds through not being physically capable to work a full time week or impairment making it difficult in other ways that are not catered for.
Most of the world gives PWD the message they are not welcome. It is obvious in the built environment, in the inflexibility of due process.
Fayen D’Evie has the most delicious hold on our English language and her casual spoken word had me in conniptions of pleasure all day. I quote her when I mention how ‘Ocular-centric’ our world is and the “need to expand our understanding to beyond the 20:20”.
Disability as ‘an existential threat’ was referred to as well as the ‘dynamics with the experience of disability’.
What a day! The intellectual rigueur present in the conversations in the room excited the hell out of me and signified a real expression of hunger for like minds to meet; and so began a really important conversation today.