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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 http://www.graeae.org/news/the-closure-of-the-independent-living-fund-an-exclusive-video/

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. http://www.graeae.org/productions/sugar/

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

Art, Austerity, Activism

Three unfired clay figures representing individual stories of the cost of austerity

In the week dominated by coverage of Martin Sheen’s speech on the danger of middle-of-the-road politics whilst the NHS is eroded I found myself sporadically weeping into the pelt of a Golden Retriever called Archie and plotting to blow up Parliament. Welcome to arts administration.

In preparation for Liz Crow’s new sculpture performance ‘Figures’, I had the grisly-yet-illuminating task of copy-editing 650 stories of the human cost of austerity, each one to be represented by a clay figure made by Liz. At the office of CoQuo, the digital agency supporting Figures, I plugged in, caffeinated, and nearly dislocated my jaw from the number of times it dropped in disbelief.

 As a borderline anarchist, the depths to which the authorities will stoop to do over the public in the name of budget cuts didn’t come as a total surprise to me, but my ignorance as to the situations of some people claiming Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payments was a bit of a shock.

I knew when starting this training that my limited experiences of personal disability were going to be challenged, something I am grateful for, but the total outrage I felt at reading the unfair ways in which claimants have been treated was a baptism of fire into disability politics that has brought me, still smoking, to total belief in the relevance of Liz’s arts activism.

People are dying waiting for their PIP re-assessments, families are being put under terrible pressure, and press propaganda is turning neighbours against each other. 

The metaphorical clay from which we are all fashioned will, I hope, be transformed into literal protest in Liz’s hands, and I will be there, along with CoQuo and Dao to support this performance as it happens. Archie, my respite hound friend, will unfortunately not be in attendance as he is enjoying a retirement most humans would be lucky to have.

Matthew Fessey of CoQuo made an interesting point about the power of digital media; in that whilst only a few hundred people were in attendance at Martin Sheen’s speech his message has now been spread to millions thanks to a couple of smartphone cameras. Whatever our stories we must document them; the status quo cannot be trusted to record an accurate history.

Make art, share stories, shout loudly.

As I finish writing this post I have just received the great news that Trish and I have been accepted as Joint Fellows of the CultureHive Digital Marketing Academy; we applied with the intention of upskilling ourselves in the promotion of disability arts projects to even wider audiences.

Watch this space artists, or better yet, fill it!

Please sign up to follow @WeAreFigures on Twitter, where the 650 stories will be shared.

Posted by Alice Holland, 12 March 2015

Last modified by Alice Holland, 29 June 2015