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Penny Pepper's Blog - disability arts online
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New York, Old London, Same Battles / 4 August 2011

Penny Pepper at Bluestockings, CripLit event, New York

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I did it. Amazed myself and survived to tell the tale, crammed with feverish stories and kaleidoscope  memories. All roasted and shaken in the rich, brash, varied flavours of New York.

I say roasted with meaning because it was hot. Blistering and humid, and when up the Empire State Building, I could see the thick smog arc hanging over and into the city. One day hit 39c - I don't believe I have known it that hot before in my whole life. Thank the gods for air con. Yet nothing could ruin this incredible adventure.

I was there primarily for work to get a feel for the city, meet people, and to do a performance at the Bluestockings, a radical feminist bookstore, at an event called 'CripLit' which was brought together by the maganificent NY burlesque queen Jo Weldon who worked with several crip woman at DadaFest last year to create 'Criptease'. Indeed, the first piece to be read (by Jo) was the DAO blog by our very own Sophie Partridge, who detailed the DadaFest event with much verve and colour.

Native New Yorker, Christine Bruno, who has visited the UK and worked on the disability arts scene on several occasions, read extracts from her one-woman show 'Screw You, Jimmy Choo', reminding me of what a talented actor she is. Other New York crips did interesting and intriguing pieces; a visually impaired woman telling the amusing story of the frustrations of being a VI bride and the discrimination she faced, and another set where one woman read a beautiful poem while her colleague stripped and danced and posed.

Aussie artist Kath Duncan – another Dadafest Cripteaser – had her deliciously raw and rampant story read out with great panache by Christine, an exceptional reading especially as Christine had not seen it till that moment.

Then it was the Brits. Our own institution of crip glory Mr Mat Fraser read a fab and filthy story, set in New York, and then it was me. Little ole me making my debut in New York. My mum will be staggered! I did my rather rude ‘Dr-Patient Relations’ spoken word burlesque, developed a few years ago with London based burlesque legend Jo King, and finished off with a new piece call ‘Alphabet Sex’. 

I glowed and grinned and basked in my moment. I sold books and Bluestocking took copies as stock. Everyone was lovely and complimentary. I most certainly will return.

I’m full to the brim with New York and the stories will spill out into something very soon.  

But for now, slowly recovering from jet lag, I have to turn my thoughts, if not energy quite yet, to the Edinburgh Fringe. I am there from Aug 22-27, performing the show ‘Adventures in the Dark and Light’ – in Princes shopping mall (!?). Quick note: I have floor/sofa bed space in a semi-accessible apartment if anyone is interest – reasonable rates.

But reflecting on an intense and exciting week, in which I felt I made progress with my work, I have to end on a sombre note.  The ConDem cuts are hitting. Social services peer into our lives to trim and snip… and slash.  A top-notch PA made my New York trip possible in the sense of appropriate support. Yet as budgets are challenged and we are pushed to live in conditions worse than convicted criminals, what then of our work and our aspirations?  

The hypocrisy shouts as loud as we do – can we make them listen? We have to, for all our sakes – and not only to have the right to travel, but the right to exist.   

Keywords: burlesque,cabaret,creative writing,cuts to services,dadafest,disability art,disability arts festival,disability publications,disabled women,fiction,new york,poetry,spoken word,