I work in the disability arts sector and find myself to be one of the last of the actor – managers: devising, booking, performing and packing the van.
While wrestling with another tour budget, and quacking at assorted UK venue bookers, I was struck again by their deeply embedded mistrust around disability arts. Prime example “We’ve already booked our disabled show for this season/ year/ millennium”.
If I’ve heard it once… And this ingrained attitude makes it tough to remain committed as a performer to developing accessible work. I’ve been doing it since 1982 and one would hope to have seen a few changes. And, yes, there have been many developments in the field of deaf and disabled Arts, but not enough in the muddied fields of the minds of those who book it.
There have been many developments in the field of deaf and disabled Arts, but not enough in the muddied fields of the minds of those who book it
And what do they book? If there is so little understanding of the complexities of the issues, how can bookers in mainstream venues begin to cope with the multitude of possibilities and go on to reflect the lived experience of this vast potential audience?
I would like to suggest in the same way they address and assess other touring products, by being informed and looking at the pertinent application of a developed aesthetic. Jo Verrent, a distinguished disabled arts practitioner, stated in a recent blog that bookers should “show more taste and discrimination, and stop booking the first show they see with a wheelchair”. Oh boy do I agree!
The visibility of deaf and disabled people is one of the core means for equality. The deaf way of life is visually-oriented and this has had a profound impact on how deaf artists express themselves aesthetically. While this art has existed for many years, it receives little attention outside of the often closed D/deaf community spaces. One of the aims of my work is to demonstrate, both to deaf people and hearing society, that deaf and hearing children have unity through culture and language which crosses national and cultural boundaries. But this work has to be promoted coherently, not just booked and slapped in a corner.
As actors and devisers, by modelling inclusivity in our working practices we can continue to address understanding within the hearing community of deaf childrens patterns of behaviour and pastoral needs, push to develop capacity for discussion and encourage young deaf people to recognise and realise their potential in addressing change. However, it starts in the bookers hands…
Krazy Kat Theatre’s Sign Me Up a Story: Baba Yaga, the bony legged, the witch is touring from November 17 and is at Tara Theatre, London on Saturday 24 November.