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Sophie Partridge's Blog - disability arts online
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Ambitious? For many disabled people, our main ambition is to stay well and keep going! / 9 January 2014

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,

Keywords: access,emerging artist,performing arts,theatre