Adelaide Festival Centre & AJZ Productions. Space Theatre. 1 Dec 2021
They feel unseen and unheard. Among those with disabilities, some are blind and deaf. But are able people also selectively blind and deaf by choosing what they see and listen to? In this moving, revealing and helpful locally produced world premiere, co-creator Kelly Vincent, co-creator/director Alirio Zavarce and the True Ability Ensemble have us meet disabled people wanting only a fair go, just with overcoming a curb or boarding a bus, let alone jobs and creative opportunities, or even simply an acknowledgement of dignity and presence. From 2010 to 2018, Kelly Vincent was a Member of the Legislative Council for the Dignity Party where she led changes for disadvantaged South Australians. Currently, from the comfort of your car during your daily commute, you will have noticed billboards with Alirio Zavarce instructing which rubbish goes in which bin. Behind that humour is a man who has dedicated his theatrical skills to creating new work in which those left behind by our society can tell their stories.
The opening number comprises some wildly kinetic choreography devised by two of the cast members, Jamila Main and Wren Dow. This is my first lesson – I was astonished that disabled persons that I assumed could hardly move danced in unison and syncopation sweetly unabashed. Indeed, I was ashamed that I accepted their initial presentation as a bunch of jittery zombies as plausible when it was a spoof. Beginning to recognise my latent prejudices – and I invite you to also dig deep and reflect on yours – I was ready to listen and learn. And God bless you if you already and always accept everyone as your equal.
Each cast member had their own idea or message for a showcase which was polished to performance quality by Zavarce. Wren Dow talked about “this body I live in” and showed with surprising agility how mobility aids mean freedom and not entanglement. Kym Mackenzie is one of many performers who trained, acted and sometimes toured with the disability-focused theatre company No Strings Attached (look them up). “Slow down” was his message. By now I am deeply moved with the gumption I’m seeing. Dion Allen hosted his TV parody, Wheel of Fortune, humorously but pointedly demonstrating how disabled persons are not listened to. Jamila Main has an unseen disability that occasionally confines her to a wheelchair. She was in the middle of formal acting training when laid low by this condition. What a hoot she gave her acceptance speech for the Academy Award for the Best Performance by an Able Person Playing a Disabled Person (eg Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man and Daniel-Day Lewis in My Left Foot). After filming each day, you can wipe off your disability with disinfectant tissue and walk home.
Jye Parry’s acting debut as an axe-wielding warrior looked impressive but the Darth Vader voice-in-the-helmet thing was difficult to understand. His real job is a designer in film, and his projected moving graphics were the ticket. “Am I a mutant” Ad’m Martin, with his disdain for the occasional vowel, offered his provocative poetry. Ad’m holds back more than he gives making him a man of mystery. Perhaps he was a little pissed off his electric wheelchair stopped operating only hours before the show, I would be.
Philippine-born Lucy Lopez Rivera sang a lovely song that no doubt reminded her of home, because it reminded me of the friendly Philippines and the widespread love of expression I encountered there. Rachel High showed her sassy saucy side and Justine van Eyssen implored some sensibility in her shtick. These live performances were interspersed with Zavarce’s filmed interviews of disabled people answering the question what it is like to be unseen. The responses varied from ironically funny to downright distressing, the casual and thoughtless slights disabled people endure are rife. In a live interview, the articulate Kelly Vincent called it “ableism.”
Using Vincent’s words, the performer-creators were “unapologetically themselves.” Zavarce and Vincent have done a terrific job in bringing this request of the disabled to the largely able audience – we are here, hello, talk with us, we are just like you. Bravo to bravery!
PS Can’t hear? No problem. The show is signed in Auslan (Australian sign language) for the deaf).
When: 1 & 2 Dec 2021
Where: Space Theatre