Dao: putting the disability back into disability arts / 5 June 2014
DAiSY Fest 2014 - held in the cavernous GLive arts centre in Guildford, yesterday, left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling. And I guess at the end of the day, there’s no greater thing that the Arts can bring into your life than a sense of belonging; a sense that you have a recognised place in the world.
And so a big thanks to DAiSY for inviting Dao to come and put an event on. With the calibre of performance from Allan Sutherland and Penny Pepper there was no doubt in my mind that it was going to be good. There was a great buzz and a warm and engaged reception from an appreciative audience. We were blessed by the fact that both Jo-anne Cox who plays cello with Penny, and Jennifer Taylor, whose life story was the subject of Allan’s performance, were both able to make it to the event.
Jennifer’s story; Proud (One of the cycles of transcription poems from Neglected Voices), was a real testament to the strength of the resources that many of us have to draw on - as disabled people - in order to survive. I think even Allan was surprised by just how powerful his selection from Proud, was. And it was great to hear from Jennifer how encouraged she has been by her collaboration with Allan. And that she is now looking for ways to tell more of her story.
Jo-anne’s contribution adds immensely to the depth of Penny’s performance, emphasising the rhythm within her words and enhancing the meaning by adding extra nuances to Penny’s expression. When Penny exhorts her audience to “come to Cripplegate”, we have no choice but to follow. Lost in Spaces - Penny’s one woman show is going to get it’s first full public airing on 8 September at the Soho Theatre, London. I can’t wait. She is destined to knock her audiences for six with her captivating performance and the quality of her writing.
Penny has been working with another Dao writer, John O’Donoghue who has been mentoring through the writing of Lost in Spaces. He is also encouraging her to produce an autobiography from the diary writings that the show draws from. It was interesting that one of the main points that came through the question and answer session was to do with the importance of disabled people putting our stories out into the world; partly because the world will always endeavour to tell our stories for us if we don’t. And the discussion was also about how we choose which aspects of our stories to tell.
For Allan the heart of the transcription poetry process is about allowing space through interview for people to find their voice and tell the stories that they want to tell. For Penny, who described the frustration of always being pushed by publishers to talk in detail about her impairments, it was very much about avoiding styles that would allow for a tragic but brave interpretation of her life.
We’ve been through a period of over a decade now during which disability arts, has been doing its level best to kill off the ‘disability’ word. How often have I heard: “We’re artists. We don’t want to be defined by disability. We want our work to be taken on its own terms: not to be tainted by disability, (by which what is mostly meant is impairment, anyway, and not ‘disability’ at all.”
So, a warm level of thanks are due to Penny and to Allan for reclaiming the ‘d’ word with a pride and a sense of celebration.
It was really satisfying for Dao to have had this opportunity to present some of the work that has been at the core of what Dao does online, but in a live setting.
I am currently planning some further events this summer/ autumn with Together in Newham and with the Poetry Library on the Southbank. So watch this space, as they say!