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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