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2016: In with the old and the new!

Alice Holland and Mat Fraser hug each other

Hi everyone! It’s been a little while since my last update and a glance at my increasingly mangled diary (apparently I do most of my smoking and hair dyeing towards the middle of the month) makes me wonder if I’m not perhaps a tad over-stretched. But with so many wonderous arts projects to get my grubby little paws on I’d rather regularly sleep on trains and get home late than miss out.

I did have a couple of anxiety attacks recently though so I’m cutting back on the travel and have a hot date with my hypnotherapist next week. A little snooze over Christmas has helped immeasurably and Trish and I are now working full-speed ahead on some daring manouvres to keep Dao’s engines purring.

Whilst I cannot reveal the details of the loops we are looping, I’ve been enjoying a little reflection on how much my life has changed since I came out as mental, decided to move up the food chain from dancing monkey to producing/curating monkey and fell in love with Disability Arts.

Before I started working for Dao most of my work was as a showgirl/pornographer/overdressed mouth-piece and it’s wonderful to see how my old world blends with the new sometimes, and the last few months have brought about a couple of doozies...

Belarus Free Theatre- Staging A Revolution. November 4th.
Thanks to super-chum Mat Fraser’s recommendation I had the absolute honour of speaking on a post-show panel on ‘Taboo in London 2015’, alongside Alastair Stewart from the Kaleidoscope Trust, an wonderful LGBT human rights organisation, and Reverend Jide Macaulay, Nigeria’s first openly gay minister and founder of House of Rainbow.

I’ve been a huge fan of the Belarus Free Theatre for some time; they are banned by the KGB from performing in their own country and as a result their secret events are frequently raided with arrests aplenty. Their commitment to political and artistic freedom under terrifying circumstances are a huge inspiration to me, and to be able to meet and swap cries of resistance to oppression with them is something I will treasure always. The most exciting part of the night was the live link with a hidden audience in Belarus joining us for two short plays as well as the discussion; waving at our brothers and sisters across the internet was truly a moment of solidarity and subversion.

Camden People’s Theatre- Let’s Talk About Sex. October 4th.
Let’s indeed. Specifically I was asked to gob off on what the arts and pornography can learn from each other, and shared the panel with smutty film-maker Vex Ashley, theatre director Josh Roche and sex writer Gareth May.

My favourite position (fnar) is as provocateur; I adore speaking on panels as an excuse for saying the unsayable to rooms full of strangers, to break the ice, raise a smile and get the real questions flowing, part of the reason I started working with porn on stage in the first place.

As ever, the thrill of having ‘a real life porn star’ in the room, in the form of Vex, brought out a few shy-but-pervy types, who we had great fun rolling our eyes at and shutting down with well-practiced intimidating sex chat, as well as teasing our fellow ‘straight’ panelists on their relatively chaste approaches to sex on stage and page. The discussion of fetishing body types and impairments came up and I was glad to cite the work of Outsiders and the Sex Maniacs Ball, and some of the groovy disabled sex workers I’ve met over the years.

This article by Sophie Saint Thomas on disabled porn stars came out recently, and I’m hoping to meet the performers mentioned in it sometime.

Graeae- Board of Trustees. December 2015.
Oh proud and happy day; one of my favourite theatre companies thinks that I am useful! Graeae has invited me to join their board of trustees, and of course I was pleased to accept. The opportunity to contribute to the well-being of such a progressive and interesting operation is a huge privilege,  especially when the existing crew are such a joyful bunch of folks. I’m particularly interested in the talent development and education aspects of Graeae’s work, and it’s fascinating to see how every moving part fits together to form the behemoth of art, activism and awesomeness that is Graeae Theatre. It also feels pretty spiffy and grown-up to be on the Board of anything at all, having worked primarily by myself for so long, and I have already been using board meetings as a blatant excuse for power-dressing.

In case you didn’t catch it first time round, have a butchers at this video of John Kelly and Mat Fraser on the closure of the Independent Living Fund

Also, book your tickets to see The Solid Life of Sugar Water on national tour! It was an absolute stand-out for me at the Fringe last year, particularly in the sensitive handling of a seldom-told story. You will cry.

2016 is going to be one hell of a year; my training with Dao will end in March (gissa job, yeah?) and I’ll be out in the world again curating a new programme of work by disabled artists for a South West venue, so watch this space. I’m also working with the lovely Priya Mistry on her project Musical Mental Health Cabaret, which is just another one of those perfect meetings of all my interests. Huzzah!

Thank you to everyone who has helped this to happen, it's really fantastic.

Now, I’m getting back to the funding applications, see you all soon!

Posted by Alice Holland, 6 January 2016

Last modified by Alice Holland, 7 January 2016

'Figures' Production Report

Staring vaguely into the middle distance in a chalet in rural Wales, it’s hard to process that for the last week I’ve been on a tidal schedule; a wind-burnt face and a sleep-deprived sense of befuddlement my only souvenirs of a week on the bank of the Thames helping Liz Crow bring her ‘Figures’ project into being. Was it only a few days ago we stood outside Parliament giving interviews to Finnish news channels and to Occupy? The BBC DID show up, didn’t they?

The human cost of austerity as a theme for a project is one I’m totally behind and the value of humanity in arts production has featured heavily in lessons learned this week. Working under tough conditions, be they battling 60mph winds or a being in a group of strangers thrown into a flat together, is par for the course in production, but the ability for a team to pull together and play nicely is key to success.

3am rarely brings out the best in anyone but we managed, by and large, to bring a little gallows humour to our early starts and heavy loads.

Every court needs it’s jester, and when I realised I was unable to help with a lot of the physical aspects of the performances due to a back injury I took my role as Production Support to be in part serving as a cheerleader for physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing amongst the team. Yup, a bit of mucking about whilst loading a van can go a long way, I feel, as does the timely application of bacon sandwiches, so I hope I was able to contribute a little to the team.

None of this would have worked without excellent planning, and commendation must go to Producer Jess Edge for preparing the most formidable schedule to help us keep on track! I’ve worked with complicated scheduling before as part of the production team of the Unfairground at Glastonbury Festival, and the skills of good resource- and people-management are totally transferrable in all outdoor arts endeavours. If everyone is clear on their roles and know exactly where they need to be at any given time it allows for much better problem solving in the moment.

I tip my hat also to Liz’s PA Jess Keily; her amazing skills and patience really highlighted the importance of skilled and properly funded assistance for disabled artists. Without her we would have struggled to keep the project afloat, and her excellent communication between the team and Liz helped us to adapt to Liz’s energy levels and requirements.

Liz herself has been a joy to work with; even freezing her fingers and toes in the clay and wind for hours at a time she always came back from the shore smiling and kind. Endurance work really is a test of the body and will, and Liz’s commitment to her work has been unshaken throughout. She’s a very impressive woman who’s work I will be following from now on.

Please do have a look at the Figures twitter account for details of the project and the stories behind the sculptures. We live in uncertain times and I will be watching the results of the general election closely for movement in funding to arts and disability.

It’s nice to be back in the real world, and to not have to wear four pairs of trousers to keep warm, but there was something magical about being the only people awake on the riverbank watching a lone figure making many small ones, making a quiet but powerful protest for vulnerable people in society. Let us strive to take care of one another and keep up the pressure on government to be accountable and fair to us all. 

Posted by Alice Holland, 7 April 2015

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 8 April 2015