KATE :: I GIVE YOU MY HEART
Writer, Performer, Founder: Raspberry Ripple Productions. Melbourne, VIC
As a disabled theatre maker and director who works with disabled and non-disabled performers, I need to expand my practice in an ongoing way, and be relentlessly curious about new ways of doing things. Doing a residency like this is part of up-skilling – which I think is a constant necessity in the life of an artist. I want to continue striving to be the best, and facilitate the same in others.
I formed Raspberry Ripple Productions as a response to the great hole in the mainstream Performing Arts industry. Nowhere could I see a disability-led theatre company which was actively bridging the gap between the disability arts sector and the mainstream performing arts.
And what a gap it is!
There is a great reluctance in Australia to acknowledge that disability is simply part of the human condition, and that performers with disability can add a dimension that has never been seen before.
It confounds me that the performing arts industry in Australia – an industry that depends on stories for its very existence – actively avoids telling stories of difference. And in the process of avoiding telling these stories, discriminates against twenty percent of the population. Disabled artists are siloed away, making work which is mostly seen only by one another.
I want to change that – for myself, and others.
I have an ambitious agenda for Raspberry Ripple. I want the company to evolve into doing plays which are in the canon of Australian theatre, plays like Summer of the Seventeenth Doll – but always with a mix of disabled and non-disabled actors. This is a company that I see non-disabled artists wanting to be part of because they recognise that it will deepen their understanding of what is possible in their work and change their practise for the better.
I believe that putting disabled and non-disabled people on stage together immediately poses multiple provocations – and in and of itself makes an offering to an audience which has never been made before. Breathing the same air is an essential part of making a level playing field within the arts – and getting an audience to understand that finally, we are one.
I learnt the craft of acting and theatre making as a non-disabled performer, so I have a foot in both worlds, and excellent connections in both. I am aware that the boundaries I have in place around what is ‘good’ theatre and what is ‘bad’ theatre were given to me by my mainstream tribe. They have shifted somewhat – and need to stay flexible.
I want to challenge myself to really work inclusively – and I am excited at the possibility of working with a disabled theatre maker who has yards of experience in this field. I am very aware that in my burgeoning disability arts tribe, I’m working in an entirely new way creatively, taking into account the diverse needs of disabled artists, making it up as I go along, working with what’s in the room, which is both frightening and exhilarating!
The possibility of embedding audio description and deaf interpreting into my next show is very exciting to me! I see it as a necessary step in the evolution of Raspberry Ripple – and its branding.
Raspberry Ripple has so far mounted only one production. Working on Enunciations was a wonderfully rich experience…
In the workshop/development process, we began with a discussion about our individual experiences of disability – disabled and non-disabled performers in the room together, asking questions of one another. This led to making improvised work, then tackling some Shakespeare, Caryl Churchill, Paddy Chayevsky, the Australian writer Joanna Murray Smith and brand new writing.
This was a huge learning experience for me – of course, every disabled person is an expert in their own disability, but we don’t necessarily know much about one another’s! So it was an eye-opener.
I found myself learning about Acquired Brain Injury, embracing what it is to be Short Statured, hearing stories about becoming famous through having a disability as a child, and of course, I have had a brand new experience myself. This was the first time I had ever made theatre as a wheelchair user who has a neurological condition. It was confounding, exhausting and exhilarating!
It gave me a clear understanding that in order for Raspberry Ripple to fulfil its remit of making compelling, inclusive theatre (which, by its very existence advocates for difference…) I need to find out how to work better with disabled performers.
In spite of the fact that my tribe of disabled performing artists are currently locked out of professional training, their grace, tenacity and creative instincts have taught me a lot, and reminded me about the importance of truthfulness in the creative process. I want to create opportunities to nurture these talented artists.
Our lives are a rich source of material, full of important, heroic, ordinary stories that need to be told in the mainstream world of performance arts. It is clearly time for change. My vision is to see disabled artists in all aspects of the profession – in writing rooms for television, creating new plays, graduating from drama schools as actors, directors, producers and film makers.
In fifty years time, I want our great grandchildren to be told tales of a world where discrimination against all people who were seen as ‘other’ was normal, and shake their heads in disbelief. I absolutely believe that the performing arts can instigate this change. For me, this residency is an opportunity for reflection with my global disability arts tribe, and is potentially a big part of that change.