I’ve been at sixes and sevens the last couple of weeks. You know how it is – sometimes impairment can get the better of things. I count myself lucky to be in a position where I can do work which affords me the comfort of allowing me to manage the daily slog of M.E. related restrictions.
I have just met with Gaelle Mellis – the dynamic artistic director of Restless Dance Company in Adelaide. We talked a lot about that thorny issue of identification. It is so understandable why disabled people don’t want to be saddled with a label – but the fact is that our fight to get equal participation in society won’t happen without facing what disability means to us – the ways that discrimination impacts on us in our daily lives.
At the fine edges of attitudes towards disability is the fact that there are so few role models of disabled people to counteract the argument that if we can’t be cured, our lives are not worth living. Debates around the assisted suicide bill have been raging on dao through the summer – thanks to the Julie Birchall of Disability Arts – otherwise known as Crippen.
In response I just wanted to publish a link to Clair Lewis’ moving and well argued blog against the rationale behind assisted suicide on Heresy Corner
Titled ‘My life is unbearable - don't fix it, just kill me’ Clair argues that we should be fighting for inclusion, independent living and assistance to live – rather than assistance to die.
Getting disabled people having fun on the streets of London is one way of countering the notion of ‘tragic lives’ that is the generally accepted view of impairment. I enjoyed this years’ Liberty Festival as much as ever – despite the fact there was no LDAF-run film tent. On the plus side the stages were much better set out to accommodate the lively mix of arts that is Liberty. It’s the one big open event in the disability arts calendar – when disabled people gather to catch up with old and new friends, and see some of the latest work coming out of the disability-related arts scene.
There is always an emphasis on the performing arts with several stages for music, dance and a tent for comedy, cabaret and spoken word. One of my highlights was seeing Sophie Woolley perform excerpts from When to Run
Described by Irvine Welsh as a "A stunning, electrifying show full of imagination and verve," the show comprises of four compelling monologues from a teenage athlete, a highly strung professional, a lifestyle guru and a dog walker. The writing is gripping, dark, with a fast paced hilarity, matching the intensity of the various characters running exploits.
Generally, Liberty presents a mixed audience of disabled and non-disabled people who are generally fairly subdued and difficult to play to. Aside from the smattering of disability arts regulars Liberty is largely giving exposure to a crowd who are experiencing the work for the first time. You can tell from the quizzical looks on peoples’ faces that they are finding their way into it. I think this is one of the festivals greatest strengths – even if it makes it hard for the performers.
The biggest crowd pleaser this year was Kuljit Bhamra who did a great job of getting the audience to take part, chanting Liberty and humming themes on the hundreds of plastic kazoos he handed out. He is a celebrated tabla player and composer who is lauded for having bought Bhangra to the UK. He was the perfect act to end the festival on, conveying warmth and passion.
This years’ festival seemed to showcase dance more than anything else – possibly because dance works well in an outdoor space. It all looked very sleek and professional. Blue Eyed Soul did a sterling job entertaining the crowds with a variety of aerial dance work throughout the day.
One of my favourite acts was Penny Peppers’ spoken word spot in the cabaret tent. Call me old school, but I think there is more of a need than ever to name those disability elephants which hold us back from taking part. Penny’s spoken word stuff does just that, in a sexy, humorous and engaging style. I think if she could find a way over the hurdle of performing from the page – she’d find a way of making her act that much more dynamic.
Going back to my meeting with Gaelle. She is looking at ways of getting the fantastic Oska Bright Film Festival over to Australia. The Team of Learning Disabled Film-makers who head that project have done amazing things this past year and half. The Oska Bright Festival coming up in November is bound to be a highlight of the year.
Carousel, who are the learning disability arts organization who facilitate Oska Bright have just come up with another great initiative called ‘Shut Up and Listen!’ It is the culmination of a years work with people with learning disabilities who have an interest in music. It will be an outlet for their music to be heard and promoted through a learning disabled led radio show.