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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

Fringe Diary Day 1: Champions

Yesterday I was supposed to be swanning about Edinburgh seeing shows and catching up with old pals, but an airport bomb scare threw things off so all I managed was to go to the iF Platform launch and British Council Showcase opening party and give myself a hangover before leaving. Should have had more cheese nibblies. Today; actual work, in the form of the If Not Now, When? conference, attended by the great and the good, and the new and wide-eyed.

As a rookie producer also pretty green to Disability Arts I am conscious of my potential role within a community seeking to amplify and develop it’s own voice, and how best to sculpt my skillset and knowledge to best serve it.

‘Producer’ is a pretty nebulous job title, defined by individual relationships and techniques, and by the specific artistic and practical requirements and ambitions of the project.

Back in 2013 I attended an event hosted by Theatre Bristol called ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’; a day dedicated to examining some of the permutations of the artist/producer relationship, and a day on which I rather starrily-eyed met the fabulous Jenny Sealey, who’s relationship with producer Hetty Shand was the strongest and most pragmatic of those expressed by the panel.

Their working relationship seemed to fit my just-forming ideas of a role where I could be a critical friend, a cheerleader, an opener of doors and a charmer-off of powerful pants for the development of subversive and radical ideas, ideally all wrapped in a powerhouse package of strong personalities, unique vision and unrelenting hard work. (Yes, I do think producing is a bit of a buddy movie. What of it? Cue montage!)

I’m not there yet- speaking to one of the delegates on the British Council ‘Emerging Producers Platform’ at the swanky Showcase party last night I realised that I am not yet even an emerging producer. I am a pupil, a larvae, pupal, but the time to learn FAST how to play the game and change the rules at the same time is NOW.

Our final panel today asked Where Are The Champions? and I want to say, I’m right here. My track record is shorter than my mini-dress but inch by administrated inch I am learning, and my commitment to the possibilities and politics of this avant garde scene deepens every day.  

Amongst the leading voices in Getting Shit Done In Disability Arts today almost everyone referenced the repetitious and historic nature of labels, access, perceptions and opportunities. Well, I’m part of the new guard, and whilst I want to know the heritage I am becoming a part of, I also feel that my freshness and relative lack of ties to the movement can work in my favour.  

I think it’s time we 18-30s in Disability Arts had a little shindig and figured out our place in all this, and what we can manifest as the next chapter in Disability Arts. Colin Hambrook has told me that there has been a huge resistance amongst younger disabled people to be identified by or associated with the Disability Arts scene, and I think that a large part of that is the increasingly individualistic culture we have grown up in.

‘Community’ means ‘available resources/influences’ to someone who had the internet from age 14 and sought out people from across the globe who could take me away from my rural prison. My community is an international one, one of diverse people taking what they need to learn from each other to add to their ever-growing collection of influences. We rarely meet, if ever, but that makes it no less real, and we’re generally really good at things like change, persuasion, branding, marketing and mass communication. Most of all we’re good at not accepting what we’re given and instead forging our own paths, making us ideal leaders and allies within artistic and social movements.

As a champion I will:

1. Find ways to bring the disability arts avant garde the proper recognition it deserves from the point of conception through securing easily accessible development money, and not waiting for invitations from venues to suit their agendas and responsibilities. Art is happening all the time, and to be satisfied with the opportunities available from a few dedicated platforms and funds is not enough, although a wonderful place to start from.

2. Use my marketing and persuasion skills to forge influential mainstream connections and pitch work at the highest possible level- leading by example in terms of scope and standard.

3. Be ever-inquisitive about how conditions for artists can be improved, and how best-practice can be most effectively shared between producers and programmers to benefit them.

4. Get my ass out of bed every day I can and keep learning.

Posted by Alice Holland, 26 August 2015

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 1 September 2015

'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

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