I am in bits. Sue MacLaine and Nadia Nadarajah have taken me apart by subtle means, by invisible means, with fast-moving fingers, and I am discombobulated by unnamed emotions after their performance of Can I Start Again Please?
MacLaine and Nadarajah’s dissection and examination of language, meaning and intent is so elegant that even though I knew the themes of the piece were going to be hard; abuse, survival, silence; the slow burn build still took me by surprise when I found myself crying and speechless. An amazing piece of theatre from two gifted performers.
Their synchronised movements and expressions are both visually arresting and moving, and recall how lonely it can be to try and express individual experience, even with shared language and understanding. Go and see it whenever you can!
Part of the emotional shot to the heart surely came from my having spent the preceding morning getting revved up at Fringe Central, listening to Jess Thom, Richard Butchins and Jo Verrant speak dynamically about ‘Disability: A Creative Advantage’. A great hour of discussion, frankness and calls to action, from both the new and older guard of disability arts.
It is notable throughout my whole Fringe experience that public/panelled discussion of disability arts is vehemently positive and progressive, whereas the experiences reflected in performance and art are more diverse, touching on sadness, frustration and isolation too, much of it specific to experience of impairment or disability.
Art and debate serve different functions, yes, but ultimately do we not want a joined-up sector where critique and creation equally reflect life? Can we rally ourselves to surf the wave of public interest in disability arts, whilst also sharing truth about anger and injustice? Are we setting up arty super-crip expectations, or is there simply still an ocean of patronising attitudes to swim through, best done so with a clear ‘fuck you/piss on pity’?
Being an artist is hard; one of the most challenging and under-supported roles a person can take on, and it is up to every individual artist how they position themselves in the public eye, and the right of every panellist and participant to share their stories however they choose.
Nobody wants to be inspiration porn, or be to spoken down to, looked over or left out, but the juggling act between funding, PR, touring, creative expression, practicalities and logistics and the existential nature of the profession should be more openly discussed. This shit is TOUGH!
There is everything to play for right now, even with the budget looming and the arts’ delicate neck first on the chopping block, and I am interested to see how this phase pans out; with the British Council, Arts Council and some mainstream media starting to wake up to the value of diversity and equality it’s a good time to figure out our narratives and our place in history as whole, flawed, individual people with as much to learn as to teach.
Ahead of his first Edinburgh Fringe show ‘Easy For You To Say’, I met up with punk poet Rowan James to welcome him to my neck of the woods and find out his ambitions and motives behind the piece.
Rowan has been based in Ipswich for many years but has come to the warm, cidery bosom of Bristol to develop his first feature show in a new context and to gain a bit of perspective on all that he has achieved so far, an impulsive decision his producer Luke Emery regards as typical of Rowan’s style.
From supporting Scroobius Pip and Attila the Stockbroker on tour to teaching at special education schools Rowan has broad experience as a creative practitioner; I was most struck by his considered and open identity as an artist and activist, and his ability to bring his artwork to many different arenas.
“There’s no hard or fast rule about what an artist should do; some people aren’t up for changing anything socially. Personally that’s not art that interests me, I’m always into things that surprise me, turn my head and challenge me,” says Rowan, “I started out on the music scene being the poet on between bands, and that’s the audience I prefer. I haven't always enjoyed the sit-down poetry gigs as much. I like captivating the audience be a challenge. I like having to work the mic and my physicality to bring people in, having to be in people’s faces in a way that finds balance.”
I can relate; as an emcee I always love the freefall, the risk, in daring to make an audience love me for being provocative, maybe even making them uncomfortable yet always included. A few beers from now Rowan and I will have bonded over the social construction of gender, classic 80s trainers, the importance of outrageous flirting and the scandals and gossip we know from the performance poetry scene; a bender is brewing, one that will leave me with disco whiplash in the morning, but for now all is professional…
The first time any artist offers their heart on a plate to the Edinburgh Fringe is an important moment, and I wanted to know what Rowan’s intentions were for his ‘big push’, performing a continuous poem in a rave setting accompanied by beatboxer Marv Radio to explore labels, self identity, perception and about the aspiration and lack of understanding within society around learning difficulties and disabilities. Well, shit, there goes the neighbourhood.
“One of the themes of the show is looking at diversity, how in the same way as globalisation and immigration, it makes us stronger. I’m looking at medical advances since the 1970s, that I’ve dubbed myself a first-generation survivor of, from being the first generation of congenital heart conditions that babies have survived and the knock-on effects of that.
I’m fascinated by Socrates’ distrust of writing; he thought that our brains would change if we weren’t holding information in the same way; I’m someone who finds the journey from brain to page really difficult and I want to look at how that has been under-represented in an unfair way and why that is.
I want to talk about my frustration about how, for example, when people talk about the Holocaust how it’s never mentioned that disabled people were the first people to disappear.
I don’t know if I can do all that in one show. It’s hard, quite heart-breaking, to research the sense of apathy around how far we should go to change our systems to include more people. What is the ideal? What is fair? What is reasonable?”
Conversation of this scope obviously requires more space than one blog post can contain, so, in the interests of developed discourse Rowan and I hit the backstreets of Bristol to wreak havoc, dance like twats and inflict ourselves on the general public in the name of critical dialogue. Nice work if you can get it, folks, and I'll be bringing you more on this dynamic artist as we sober up.
You can get your tickets to 'Easy For You To Say' at the Edinburgh Fringe HERE
Rowan will be performing and Alice will be giving a presentation on crowdfunding at 'Shaping a Diverse Future' on July 10th at The Point in Eastleigh. Tickets HERE
And you can donate to our crowd-funding campaign to support Rowan's show HERE if you'd like to chip in a few quid towards the poking of the status quo and the development of a young artist on the verge of kicking up a stink as part of the iF Platform at the Edinburgh Fringe.