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Ambitious? For many disabled people, our main ambition is to stay well and keep going!

photo of Sophie Partridge looking from beneath the armpit of the large puppet Semmersauq

I don’t think of myself as being ambitious but thought I’d look it up – just to check! This is what the online dictionary said about it.

Ambition, noun the object, state, or result desired or sought after: 
Interesting, a challenge for me personally as I think half (of what I consider to be my) lack of ambition, is not knowing what the desired result is... 

Desire for work or activity:
Okay so this is more like it!  Something tangible, something I can relate to. And finally...

To seek after earnestly; aspire to: 
Crikey!  So what is it I’m seeking?  Do I really aspire to anything?..

I think for many disabled people such as myself, our main ambition is to stay well and keep going! Everything else is a bonus... So with that in mind, I’ll go with the second definition! 

I wrote my latest piece, Song of Semmersuaq for myself to perform with puppets.  This was for me I think, quite ambitious – wanting to create something for me and perhaps the height of Semmersuaq reflects my alter-ego?!  Who knows...  Personally, the word ambition conjures up images of big people doing big things!  In the Arts – especially perhaps DIsArts there are those High Achievers who seem so confident, who get the big funding and make big bold work – under-water w/chairs etc. I’d drown. Really! 

Of course all that’s great and I’m happy for others to do that but it’s not for me. I read somewhere once that Writers write, what they themselves want to read – so in that case I make work for small fluffy ladies!  Something of a niche market! I like to think though, that there’s a bit more to it than that and aim to work with Universal Truths. I hope what I do is okay; we are all individually unique.

It feels important to acknowledge what barriers stop our ambition, in order to overcome them.  Also that I feel I’m probably my own worst enemy!  Having just officially reached my mid-40s, perhaps it’s time to get a little ambitious; just a little. 

Having somewhat stumbled through my work – my career (a word which 20 years ago, I never would have thought applicable) almost by happy chance - I do wonder what could have been shown to me those 20 years ago, perhaps even earlier, that may have encouraged my ambition then? Initiatives like Shape's Creative Steps programme?  Seeing other disabled Creative Practitioners?  Perhaps minor funding streams that offered paths en route to bigger pots of money; greater exposure so individuals can make their own journeys at a pace right for them. I think we can certainly do with those now, irrespective of what-ever age we are.

I want to see young disabled people come into the Arts and excel; for them to have the ambition I have possibly lacked over the years because hopefully, some of the barriers us Oldies have faced, are slowly being dismantled. I have never looked for role-models, never quested to be inspired; I’d much rather learn. Yet I do like to search for Mini-Me’s! Being my size, that’s actually quite a challenge but every so often a younger person appears who, not necessarily physically, reminds me of my former self and and I want to see them do well in this profession. Shape, Candoco and Graeae now have extensive youth programmes, as do Drake Music which I have recently become involved with and I do feel these projects are key to unlocking creative ambition. Of course the work has to follow, for that ambition not to be thawted...

Which brings me back to the definition above and my own work. Quite often I find myself saying Yes to anything & everything I’m offered! My first professional acting job was playing a character called Far Away Alice – aka The Scary Fairy – in a `horror’ piece with the David Glass Ensemble!  This actually, was an incredibly hard but great opportunity at the time. However my days of being carried around on stage, are hopefully over and I’d like to think I can be more discerning in the work I do. 

The reality is tho, due to financial pressure to have work, there’s a danger we can become Jack of All Trades and mistress of none. My ambition has always been to do what-ever I do, well and the best that I can. This year, I’ll try try to steer a path by that course with a smidge of ambition thrown in. The return of Unlimited as, We Are Unlimited can only be a positive and I hope that through it, there will be a real diversity, not only of work but also scale of that work. Not just high profile venues like SouthBank but alternative venues, where the ArtyFartys are less likely to hang out. 

This year as part of Disability History month and the Together `13 Festival, I performed Song Of Semmersuaq to an audience comprised of families who utilise Richard House, a hospice for young people with what’s termed `life-limiting’ conditions, in Stratford. Song of Semmersuaq was part of a day of performance workshops there, for young aspiring performers and the performance ended with a discussion with myself, Nicola Miles-Wildin (who played Miranda in the Paralympic Opening Ceremony) and Eve Smith, (who appears in Sky TV's forthcoming drama series The Smoke). We received questions from the young people and their families present, about life as professional disabled performers and the whole day was very successful.

Punters, particularly disabled people, can’t always get to the Art – so lets start taking the Art to them. Not in a Special way but as a means of genuine access. Let's be ambitious for the Arts and for each other, not just as individuals with egos a-go-go but in a real way that means we are truly All in it together..!  Thank you,

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 9 January 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 1 November 2015

Sophie Partridge gets through the January Bluze...

So here I sit, snug in my flat. A bluish sky through the window (above newly installed traffic lights!) while the world in various corners, suffers climate change’. Me, I’ve already had a bit of a year. So far, broken vans,chairs (no bones tho thankfully!) and last week was topped off with a fire up-stairs at 2am!

My mind casts back to late November 2010. DaDaFest. Me with a Proper Cold and blocked-up ears, more deaf than usual. And freezing cold outside the Black Box in Liverpool. We whacked the heaters up in there as we, six Criptease women, moseyed about scantily clad; making pasties (and not the pastry kind). Some of us had done It before and some of us hadn’t. It was surreal, to be so un-dressed in company, in winter.

And not to worry... well, we worried a bit: what music for our burlesque acts? Names? Costumes?? Not that they were gonna stay on for long! We found an Aladdin’s cave in a store room, full of bits & bobs for routines. Teasing and tassel-twirling – kind of! – was learnt. Tracks were downloaded, a particularly Far Out version of `Lucy in The Sky’ was found for me & sparkly pink material bought... ‘Floozie Loosey’ was born!

It wasn’t just Criptease that made DadaFest for me. Two days of rehearsed play-readings, including a draft of my own piece. It was good to feel like an actor again - doing something that won’t embarrass my mum! Plus, with so much stuff to see / hear. Other Cripplys & Nons with clothes on and off... spaghetti falling from the roof... Bed-ins... a real warmth was generated... even with The Ibis’ heating system belting out cold air!! Old friends & new. Not having gone to Edinburgh Fringe last summer, my week in Liverpool more than made up for it. And now `of course’ there will be cuts.

Will DaDaFest happen again in 2011? Rumour has it that it’ll be on a smaller scale. Personally, I’ll be sad, as I was at the passing of Theatre Workshop, Edinburgh’s Degenerate Festival. All the old arguments will prevail: do we really need an Exclusive Festival in this century?

Without it tho’ – would six `obviously’ disabled women have had the chance to do burlesque? Would they have wanted and / or have had the confidence to? So what’s it about then? Is it therapy? Self affirmation?! All I know is, much of the work I saw there was high calibre, worthy of any festival. Yet I doubt without DaDaFest it would have the opportunity to play on those main stages again... 'Floozie Loosey' may never have got to fly.

A certain Master of DaDa-Beasty Burlesque, compered an event I went to the other night. First thing he said to me was “Last time I saw you, you had a lot less clothes on.” I held back from correcting him. The last time we actually saw each other was at breakfast next morning. That would’ve sounded worse! 

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 19 January 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 25 January 2011

Sophie Partridge asks Who's Spasticus?!

Crikey it’s all been happening; what with Jenny Sealey’s cast pulling off a coup with Graeae’s Reasons To Be Cheerful. (see review in The Stage The show gives a chance for some true Crip Lovies to sing & sign + audio-describe Dury’s Spasticus Autisticus - loud & proud.

Meanwhile, back at the Royal Festival Hall last week, Candoco hosted a panel discussion on How much progress has there really been on the main stage for disabled artistes? The challenge in answering that question surely begins with defining what actually the main stage is! 

I performed with Rhinestone Rollers again at Liberty Festival last month in Trafalgar Square. In many ways there isn’t a much bigger main stage to be had! So perhaps a better question would be whether in fact we Artistes get the main gig’.

``We agreed at the discussion that Yes, there has been progress but not enough. Whether I go out to see big gigs of theatre and dance – mainstream or other - or stay in & watch telly, I still don’t see many disabled artistes and even less so, those with bendy bodies.

A recent article in Disability Now by a Paralympian, expressed concern that athletes with more full-on impairments are being given less heats to compete in and less exposure in the media when they do get a chance to compete. The media always tends to feature those who look more like Standy-Uppy peeps sitting down!

Some impairments it seems, are more acceptable to a mainstream audience than others. On TV, physically different actors tend to get impairment specific roles, if any... Does this reflect a two-tier acceptance of disability / difference within Society? Should we all know our place?! Of course the Wheelies will be brought out again soon for the obligatory Children In Need and that trend will again be set...

The answer? I admit to having mushy moments seeing the inclusive cast of Reasons but have we then Sold Out to the Norms? Do True Crips now have to be chaperoned on stage by those who don’t bend?! And in terms of access – just how many of us can actually get on that Main Stage?

To answer the original question, must we first clarify what constitutes a disabled artiste. Who is Spasticus? And is that authenticity about impairment and the label of Disabled? Or purely the rawness inside? Does celebrating Spasticus somehow contradict Inclusion because it’s such a rabble-rousing, 2-fingers-up-to- the-Norms, Crip Anthem? Those lyrics don’t doff a cap to Political Correctness. Seems to me Dury doffed to no-one.

I’m Spasticus. I’m Spasticus in a world of both Spasticci(?!) and Nons and I like it that way. Not assimilation or acceptance’. It’s not enough! I hope to be embraced for being Spasticus in this world just as I embrace those that aren’t... corny but true. When Spasticus gets Out in `Reasons’ it feels embracing. And never putting aside my Spasticus book of credentials, I want to be at The Big Gig with every-one. That’s the only Main Stage I want.``

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 1 November 2010

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 1 November 2010

Sophie Partridge gets ready to get her kit off for this years' DaDaFest in Liverpool

I’m up to Glove Peel, in Jo Weldon’s Burlesque Handbook. The page is marked with a Sainsbury’s voucher for £3 off. Not very Glam’ but hopefully I will be! Jo from The School of Burlesque will be working with several of us Crip-Lovelies towards a performance at DaDaFest 2010 next month.

I’m envisioning shivering with cold & nerves semi-clad in the `Pool!  Not unlike the first time I got my kit off for what was to be public viewing...  a cold February morning back in Camden, there I was sitting on my hard fake-laminate (again not v. Glam’) flooring, under a light tent with photographer Larry Dunstan.

Larry admitted I was his first life-model, murmuring “takes a lot of trust” reassuringly as he carefully manoeuvred his way around me, with camera.  With my pillow under my head and butterfly knickers (blimey I've linked back to the cocoon again!) on. I knew it was going to be alright! And it was. That was the weird thing.

The resulting photo was displayed as part of an exhibition called Notions of Beauty at the London School of Fashion. It was also included in a BBC3 programme, under the caption of ‘Unconventional Beauty.’ I now think of that photo as our interpretation of Manet’s Olympia... but what’s it all about? Why do these things? Why are all us Cripplys suddenly un-dressing very publicly? Are PA-Users out to make a performance art from our need for assistance with clothes?!

I asked myself that question on said cold Feb’ morning and I’m asking it again now, approaching what’s bound to be an equally cold November one. The most obvious answer is “because some-one asked me to!”  Begging the equally obvious “Well if some-asked you to stick your head in the proverbial gas oven…?”  Answer to the 2nd is No (most days!) but there is some truth in my answering Yes to the first. 

I could be Right On here and say it’s empowering, I’m doing it for myself, subverting the exploitation of Freaks by taking control etc. But… umm… If I’m honest I don’t think it is those things. Not that clearly defined anyway. Perhaps it's just that I quite like the idea of people wanting to see me naked and hoping they’ll like my body as it is! Curious & different, yes. A little E.T.-like (without extending neck!) perhaps, but indisputably and uniquely MINE. 

I’ve never been one for covering up my curves in unusual places because I was never `covered up’ like that as a child. When I played Coral in Peeling for Graeae, it was such a relief when I finally got down to my Undies! That’s not to say I don’t have hang-ups about my appearance. Or that I’m not intimidated by the Big Women depicted in the Burlesque Handbook.

I’d give a lot to refine my Partridge beak-of-a-nose and my bum quite often looks big but.. I do quite like my body. It’s the only one I have and it’s got me this far. I remember looking at the photos Larry took in not much less than amazement.

Seeing my back and how squiggley it is, looks impossible that I manage’ with it. It’s SO not-straight-as-itshould’-be... yet I do. Every day! Not `sexy’ - but Nice, maybe not nearly enough people get to see my Bod!?! I felt the photos truly portrayed my female form. Very small in places, quite squished down and in... but a real woman.

Maybe now I just want to show off that unconventional beauty a little bit more... even in chilly November! Just remind me then, that I said this... ;-)

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 12 October 2010

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 13 October 2010