By Alison Richardson
I was aware of several organisations in NSW that were producing theatre with people with a disability. I asked them to contribute a case study to interACT highlighting the process, strengths & challenges they faced when mounting the production. In the nine case studies included it was interesting to note that there were a few prevailing themes which I will summarise here to act as a quick reference guide for people. I have also added some tips and suggestions which may or may not be of use to everyone and every production as I understand that every production is different with varying levels of funding, resources and support.
The following 9 Case Studies are included in the kit:
1. A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Disability Trust
2. Coming Up in Adoration & How to Handle a Fractured Heart – Rozelle Neighbourhood Centre
3. Craving – Australian Theatre for Young People
4. Hard Daze – Powerhouse Youth Theatre
5. Home Among The Stars – intergratedliving Australia
6. Island Dreaming – Bago Magic Performance Group
7. My Space, My Place – sliced bread attraction
8. Peregrine – Can Do Performance Group
9. Sucked In – Powerhouse Youth Theatre
Individual Case Studies can be downloaded from the case study pages.
Many of the Case Studies mentioned the following as indicators of the strength of their production & rehearsal process:
- That a sense of self value, self worth & the enormous sense of achievement is gained by the performers being involved in the process and the final performance outcome.
- Aim to produce quality, non patronising theatre that can stand on it’s own merits as a quality piece of theatre.
- A sense of community was established between cast, artists & the production team who were all working towards the common goal of putting on a production.
- The ownership and empowerment that the cast receive by seeing their contribution of ideas, thoughts & stories valued and presented on stage. Also the fresh & unique perspectives brought into the devising process.
- The process was a two way learning street & engagement between members of the cast with a disability and those without.
It was interesting to note the commonalities of the challenges faced when working in integrated performance settings. I asked each case study contributor to be quite frank and honest with this section as we can all learn from each other and also feel reassured that other people experience similar challenges and may offer suggestions on how to prevent or deal with these challenges as they arise.
Time is always a major factor when putting on any kind of production. There was the general feeling that there was not enough time to do everything people wanted to achieve with their production and lots of individuals were pushed to their limit. It was mentioned that the cast were also tired by the time opening night came around due to the last minute rush towards the end of the rehearsal process.
Managing time is crucial in any creative process but particularly when working with people with a disability and integrated casts. Reducing the scale and producing quality not necessarily quantity- the bigger the better doesn’t always ring true, but an inclusive, open, well thought out and organised process allows for a level of engagement and input from all participants that can sometimes get lost when trying to mount a huge scale production in a limited amount of time.
Most people mentioned that a lack of transport was a challenge as many people with a disability may not be independent enough to get themselves to and from rehearsals and performances so either have to rely on the service they are with or their parents or carers. So when resources at services are limited (ie not enough vans or staff) and parents may not have the time, a car themselves or in some cases are perhaps unwilling to pick up or drop off their child this can place extra pressure on other cast member’s parents/ carers or the production team itself.
Before starting any production try and work out how each individual will be getting to and from the rehearsals and performances. Ask the parents and the services that are involved as this will give you the level of understanding you need when it comes to problem solving, scheduling & trying to locate missing cast members or issues around lack of attendance at rehearsals.
If the members of the production team find themselves doing drop offs and pick ups make sure that the parents/ carers are aware that it is not the production team’s responsibility but something they are doing as there doesn’t seem any other alternative and they want their child to have the experience and opportunity. Some may see it as part of a ‘service’ and therefore have not put their hand up to help with the transporting, it may be merely a lack of awareness.
A volunteer (or paid) designated driver maybe a handy person to have on board your production team. Also if possible utilising local council’s community transport buses/ vans may also be a viable option.
There is always going to be an issue around funding, usually that there is none or that it’s limited. There are a variety of ways of funding a production as you’ll read in each of the case studies. Some organisations asked for payment to cover the costs of the tutor/ director, some sourced funding from local councils, philanthropic or the Community Support & Expenditure (CDSE) scheme.
For the disability sector it is worth noting that if you are putting on production you can tap into arts based funding. The federal, state and several local councils fund cultural projects. It can be daunting and intimidating sometimes to get your head around an unfamiliar application and process but talk to others who have put in applications, talk to the funding body themselves and also to Accessible Arts all of whom can provide support and advice when going for funding.
A lot of friction & conflict can be avoided by having open lines of communication with cast, crew, services & parents/ carers. There is no such thing as too much communication or checking things too many times. Regular meetings with all involved in the production are essential.
It is also about checking in with the cast constantly about what they are actually doing (that is, rehearsing for a show- in my experience they sometimes need to be reminded of this), when the shows are on and talking them through what it will be like on opening night- audience arriving, behaviour backstage etc.
Enjoy reading all about the various creative, unique, entertaining and inspired productions.