I tried stand-up once and it was horrible. Being used to the open-armed cabaret audience I was surprised to find that comedy punters were a lot more ‘Go on then, do your jokes’ than ‘Yay! Jokes!’ Not exactly how a life-long jazz fiend had imagined her first gig at Ronnie Scotts, but I limped through with a basket of fruit on my head and had a nice time getting pissed with the acts who were off of the telly afterwards.
My respect for a comic who can nail it went up one-hundredfold that night, and whilst stand-up is not always my bag owing to the boy’s club/lowest common denominator vibe of a lot of mainstream TV routines, I’m always pleased to hear from a truly interesting take on the world and snort-laugh uncontrollably in support of a zinger. Despite almost enitely avoiding stand-up at the Fringe in favour of intense theatre I did find a good'un for you.
Lost Voice Guy’s “Hated By The Daily Mail” t-shirt made me warm to him immediately, and his solo show ‘Disability For Dunces’ was enjoyable and, best of all, totally daft. I love a silly sausage, and Lost Voice Guy aka Lee Ridley has appealing self-deprecation down, and despite a bit of an energy dip in the middle and a few tacky Hitler jokes I left ‘Disability for Dunces’ impressed by his work.
The premise is a Q&A session on the most outrageous, stupid and rude questions he has been asked about having cerebral palsy, or as he put it “a disability FAQ for stupid people”, and incorporates pop music, tech jokes with his Lightwriter and iPad and the joyous pupetting of a smashed-up vent dummy named Ian Duncan Smith. I felt both welcomed and challenged, occasionally directly insulted, and his connection to the audience was genuine and playful.
Opting for a pan-generational attack, he delivers a dizzying rant encompassing Bond villains, the Green Cross Code, Middle Ages burnings, Kanye West, religious curses and, of course, Edinburgh’s famous inaccessibility which told the audience exactly where they stood in his opinion; “the general public are totally stupid”. Fluffy disability confidence training this is not, and all the more memorable for LVG’s prankster vibe.
Towards the end of the show there are a couple of highly quotable jokes that I won’t spoil for you as LVG is on tour round the UK and will appeal to dunces, disabled folks and comedy fans of all stripes. So, get on it, tour dates here.
Of all the many exciting things I’m being allowed to put my clammy little paws on during this training, one of the most thrilling has to be Viewfinder.
I was seconds from stepping on stage to ringmistress for a circus when I found out we’d secured the funding (thank you Arts Council!) so the audience got QUITE the performance out of me that night! Trish, Colin and all the project partners and I have been rustling up the goods to get Dao’s most ambitious project on the road, and indeed your computer screens, ever since.
We are growing; having interviewed a seriously impressive group of candidates for the newly-created role of Sub Editor, we now have Joe Turnbull working with us to flex his journalistic expertise, and we are currently in conversation with Now Take Up Space to assist us in delivering a snazzy new look for Dao and the brand-new Viewfinder video platform. Their work in politically and socially engaged branding and marketing campaigns is ideal for our plans to give the ol’ girl a facelift and better convey the diversity and dynamism of the disability arts scene, so I’m really excited to see what they come back with.
Now Take Up Space were my top choice as soon as I saw their portfolio, particularly for their spot-on Olympic Housing Crisis campaign and the fun use of textures and media used in other images. And, if I’m honest, they have a disco-mirrored carrot on there somewhere and I’m fatally attracted to shiny things….We get the first batch of sketches this week; stay tuned!
Recruitment and consultation is something I’ve only ever been on the scary end of before; that is, I’ve only really been the hustler and not so much the hustlee, so this has all been really interesting to be part of. It’s almost as sicky having to decide who to employ as it is prepping for an interview or pitch, but a great challenge to think about the future of Dao. It's pretty gratifying to have had my top two choices selected for the roles, although competition was close! You know that bit where judging panels say "Now, this wasn't an easy choice to make..." and it sounds a bit tacky? Turns out to be true.
Since I last blogged Trish and I did my 6 month review of this training process, writing 6 meters-worth of notes on rolls of brown paper to figure out where I’m at, what the future might look like and just how much there is to cram in to my last 6 months with Dao! It’s so funny being a hot-housed producer; sometimes I feel like I’m doing a degree in Disability Studies, others that I’m a jammy little chancer clinging on for dear life!
I’ve been referring to myself since the start of the programme as a High-Powered Arts Bitch In-Training, which loosely means I want to be in charge of a big pot of money to dish out to shit-kicking artists who are subverting the status quo and go to lots of parties; having been invited to dinner at the Wellcome Trust this week to help discuss how they can make their pot of gold more accessible to small-scale projects and individual artists I feel I might be moving in the right direction, tiny step by tiny step. Hopefully I can commission a snazzy website for myself soon, with a frequently-updated ‘Artist Commissions’ page, to which you will all be invited of course….
One of the best things about this trip to the Fringe has been meeting other producers (trainee and pro) to have a good old rant, especially when it's in an absinthe bar full of circus honeys. Hey, when I'm working late I want to be at a party, even when I’m not drinking (touch me, I’m a saint).
I’ve spent the week banging on about funding, curation, policy, mentoring, what a racket the Fringe is, what a great thing the Fringe is, how far disability arts has come and how far there is to go….
What excites me the most about disability arts is that so many of the people involved are so deeply politicised, resistant and subversive. I love a rabble-rouser, a shit kicker, an eloquent arguer for justice and anti-bullshit, and I personally see the world as hornet’s nest that needs to be kicked every once in a while lest we settle for too little. It’s up to you wether you do it with art, activism or rhetoric.
Explicitly political work of any nature can be difficult to get funded and appreciated by the mainstream, and so the value of a clear and simple message for any arts project is easy to grasp. With so many barriers left to blow up for disabled folks generally it can be tempting to focus solely on the specifics of access, but having sniffed around for a few months now I’m starting to wail the siren song of intersectionality in the hope of luring a few sluggish vessels onto the rocks of progress. And I’m not the only one.
The arts in the UK are white as fuck, middleclass as hell and I’m only partly convinced that the sudden surge in feminist enthusiasm isn’t going to be regarded as a phase the minute Bryony Kimmings drops her sprog. This is NOT good enough.
As far as disability arts goes, for a movement tied so closely to the politics of equality I’m shocked by the number of backwards statements I’ve heard from folks working in disability arts regarding gender, specific impairment groups, age and sexuality.
Nobody is politically perfect but if we really want the arts to reflect the full diversity of life then it doesn’t start with inclusion policy, with the Creative Case, with Equal Opportunities or curated showcases; it starts with us, all of us, making our equal-mindedness LOUD AND CLEAR and calling out anyone for using sexist, ageist, homophobic, racist or otherwise derogatory bullshit language.
Yeah, I know it’s a pain, (I miss the days when I’d just kick out the headlights of curb-crawlers rather than talking to them), but what is the point in fighting for equality for some if others are left out in the cold?
More power for one doesn’t mean less power for the other- the nice thing about empowerment is that it is limitless. Yeah, I’m talking from a position of relative privilege- white, invisible impairments, educated- but top to bottom, gallery volunteer to organisation director, we are all responsible for making nice, levelling the playing field and trying not to be a total ass-hat.
[Dao writers, you'll be delighted to know I've added 'feminism' and 'intersectionality' as tags in the CMS so you can write about them to your heart's content now.]
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.