I knew more than ever that my time at sense was valuable when, on my last day, I was nearly in tears as I left the building. I couldn’t believe how quickly my time at Sense had gone, or how many people I’d grown to enjoy spending time with.
My original research questions when starting my placement were
- How can I make my practice as accessible as possible?
- How does my depression affect my performance aesthetic?
These questions still feel relevant, although I have inevitably discovered more questions along the way.
So, what have I learnt about making my practice accessible?
Firstly, that you cannot create a workshop or performance that is totally accessible to absolutely everyone. Someone with no sight needs sounds, which are no use to a profoundly deaf person, and if you use them together then both people are missing out on an aspect of the experience. I suggest that to make a single experience that is valuable to anyone and everyone who comes along is impossible. This does not mean I cannot have a totally accessible practice that is valuable to anyone and everyone who comes along. I think the key lies in individual tailoring, flexibility and the ability to think on your feet. And underlying all of this, the belief that everyone has the ability to access creativity in their own way and that their experience should be valued, their creativity nurtured and their voice heard.
Some more technical tips I’ve picked up;
- Explaining to someone without sight where they are, who is in the room and what is around them isn’t patronising, it’s quite useful . . . as long as you don’t do it as if you’re speaking to a teletubby.
- Table height is crucial when someone using a wheelchair is taking part. Too high or too low will mean the participant won’t be able to reach it.
- Touch is OK – just follow the same rules you would with anyone. Don’t be invasive or dominating, do be helpful if someone needs you to guide their hand, or open if someone needs a hug (Celebratorary high fives are also good stuff).
- Even using little bits of sign is both helpful and generous. You wouldn’t refuse to speak to someone in a different spoken language (well, hopefully you wouldn’t), so go for it in sign as well. If you don’t understand a sign, just ask. Or take a guess– for simple words it has a fairly high success rate, and people usually know what you’re getting at.
- Every person is completely different and has individual needs. It is your job to find out what they are and to cater for them. (Why this approach is only used in the context of disability I don’t know. This should be applied to everyone, in my opinion.)
- Disability isn’t a tragedy. Blocking people out because they don’t fit the mainstream is. Someone in a wheelchair is not a problem. Buildings without lifts are.
- IF YOU ARE NOT SURE ASK! Very few people will take offence if you ask what they need. They are usually more than happy to tell you.
- Hugs are always good. Banter is excellent. Allowing all feelings to come out, whatever they are, is essential.
Moving on … how does my depression affect my performance aesthetic?
Depression is often invisible. If it is written on my body, no-one seems to notice. It is shameful, it is feared, it is shunned and it is ignored … and therefore it is hidden. Invisibility is a skill that many people practice.
How do I create work about disability when mine is invisible? What right do I have to talk about bodily difference when my body is not impaired? What ties disabilities together? My experience is wildly different to someone with cerebral palsy, profound deafness or downs syndrome, so why are they given the same category?
I would suggest that many more people are disabled than we think, far more than have impairments. If disability means to be disadvantaged in society due to difference, then any body with a gender, a race or a sexuality is at risk. Is my depression my disability, or is it my fluid gender, my bisexuality, my liberal political views, my unshaven armpits?
Are disabilities of the mind feared more greatly than those of the body or the senses? When the thing that is different is as ethereal as ‘the mind’, people seem to shudder. Maybe this is what links my experience with the experience of those with learning difficulties whom I worked with at Sense.
As you can see, I am left with a mind teeming with questions.
These questions have overflowed into the text in performance module I studied alongside my placement. My experiments within that module made me ask if you can ever really communicate what it’s like to be depressed through art. In one performance I attempted to make an invisible disability visible on my skin, but it was very unsatisfactory for me as a performer. I stuck pins with negative thoughts attached to them into my skin, but it was too neat, too calm. The skin is punctured, yes, but it is not painful, and it heals within days. I am still exploring how the constant fluctuating agony of depression can be represented on the body, or even if it can. Should I even attempt to make my disability visible? Should I have to prove to the world that my disability is real by translating it onto a physical plain?
My ideal performance? To make everyone in the audience become depressed for a month without warning. To make them all try antidepressants and seek “professional” help. It would probably get the message across. Although I think it may by that point have left the realm of performance art.
I have a lot to think on in terms of depression and performance. My next investigation will take place in January, when I perform in Francesca Lacey’s “Let’s Not Talk About The Weather”.
What other questions are still burning for me?
- Where is the line between facilitation and performance? They both create experiences for a group of people. The can both aim to communicate/entertain/teach/inspire/shock/make you think. They both involved a degree of collaboration.
- What is collaboration? How is it used, and how could it be used? Do you need more than one person to collaborate? I often feel my life is a constant collaboration between my depression and myself.
- Are broken minds scarier than broken bodies?
- What is the value of enjoyment, pleasure and entertainment in performance? They seemed to be shunned as cheap, meaningless and superficial. I couldn’t agree less.
- How can I find an excuse to go back to Sense? (I miss it already)
Here’s to a 2014 full of questions and, if we’re lucky, a few answers.
Happy New Year!