The Artists Space Conversation – Arts Theatre Forum Adelaide 4 Oct 2017

Eva Sifis

Dan Graham and Julian Jaensch (Company AT),
facilitated by Jane Gronow (Tutti Ensemble)

Dan Graham is a director. He has enjoyed international success and has an undisclosed disability he does not acknowledge in his day to day life. Tales were shared alongside Julian Jaensch, the director of Company AT, an Adelaide, peer driven theatrical company working with members on the Autism spectrum.

D – There is a fear of disclosure encountered from artists with an invisible disability with whom he has worked as they know they will lose work in the current climate of ‘othering’. Many have led careers largely self-directed because there is no support from outside society. On the occasion where Dan disclosed to cast members though, he has been told “We just think you’re an interesting person.” He says he has a wish for this to be a normal response.
J – Julian’s company performs works around how it is to live in this society with Autism/Aspergers and to inform the public. So that he can give everyone an opportunity to be involved, Julian works with different forms of theatre such as Brecht. By and large the shows produced are comical and powerful.
D – The works he directs are largely text based. The view propounded is one felt by many and that is that it is possible to heal through the arts.
J – Most people have seen the Deaf ‘watching’ a show. They are usually the only ones not watching the action on stage, preferring instead the animated sign interpreters on side stage in a pool of light. It is important and perhaps groundbreaking to involve sign interpreters within the format of the show rather than have them stand apart.
Lorcan asked – What is disability in the arts?
J – Disability in the arts makes concessions and gives appropriate roles for the performer’s condition instead of teaching untrained disabled actors how to act.
Lorcan spoke here describing the change he has experienced as a performer and how it has given him a different way to work to express his feelings.
J – has found parents and carers leaving their kids at Company AT workshops (for those on the spectrum) when they did not want to be there. He had to tell the parents “This person is not an artist, you can’t just want them to be here.” To the other end he has also seen social improvements happen straight away for the right kids given an opportunity to experience the theatre. It is here he says we have the chance to create a generation of Autistic artists with the skills to “Fuck it back” (referencing yesterday’s saying)
D – Told us about his youth where he was told his future lay in packing boxes. With an incredulous air he indicated his hands that are not functional. Through the arts he has become a sought after professional and in a position where he can give others a chance. When talking about eternal disclosure he exclaimed, “Why can’t we just be ARTISTS?” Indeed
J – It gives us experience and a tool with which to do something. Without getting Fucked (up), we don’t learn”
Hayley asked – What measures can be put in place to protect members of arts companies from predatory behaviour of those who assist them?
D answered – every worker needs to have clearance, but not just your normal clearance, a certain clearance much ‘bigger than a police clearance’.
He also mentioned how major overseas theatres have separate access departments for those who need them in cast AND crew. (Something we most certainly are yet to adopt here in Australia)

Round Table Meeting after Forum

Attending the gathering of artists with Jo Bannon, we mulled over our observations and associated realisations from the time at the Forum. Already triggered, I was aghast when the patronisation I felt continued in the form of someone who should have known better. This emotion was duly echoed by others from their experiences at the Forum.

Being patronised is something peeps with disability suffer more than you would realise and whilst sometimes it is an unconscious reaction, it belies an attitude of superiority that is abhorrent and unkind.
Really dudes, isn’t it time we left the school yard behind?

We spoke about the unusual choices in speakers at the forum and that there seemed to not be appropriate representation.
The power plays in disabled and non disabled protocols show an increased need for flexibility across the board for both Producers and Audiences.
Also evident in the programming of not just this event is the overbearing ‘ticking of boxes’. Ach the eternal ticking of boxes that leads to a categorisation of the experience. Varying levels of investment are then bestowed in order to participate.

On the whole the view was that forums tend to be more and more of the same. Bringing things to the surface but to what end? There is a sense of futile endeavour.
I suppose, yet again, change is incremental.

I just wish the increments were larger.