Disabled Led Theatre – Gary Robson & Robert Softley Gale

Presentation in Fijnhout theater Amsterdam

Last Friday january 23th, 5D (a theatre work space) held a presentation led by Gary Robson and Robert Softley Gale. Knowing this website and the former blogs you would think… What does theatre has to do with Dance? Well, the inclusive dance practice started within the theatre scene. And not surprising, they are very much connected because both art forms use the body to tell and make a story.

However, I thought of writing this blog because Gary and Robert talked about the history of the inclusive theatre practice in the UK that started around 1980. The first inclusive dance practice was explored during the 1960’s and in the 1980 it gained a higher profile within the mainstream public. Also for theatre the 80’s where essential. Some questions that arrived during the presentation where; How did it all start, what happened after and where are we now? Also they briefly explained the differences between the UK and the US disabled theatre practice. The US was much more protesting against the government and social issues. However, social issues within this integrated or inclusive art scene can not be separated from this subject. In the US lots of disabled citizens came back from the war in Vietnam and therefor the scene was addressing these issues that came with the ‘problem’.

In the UK disabled theatre all started because of the exclusion and equal rights, however, it was not about this matter only. In the UK as Gary explains some subcultures like gays, lesbians, transgender, tranvestites and disabled actors where gathering together in order to make theatre about political issues that had to do with their culture and their place within society,  just because there where left out in the creative scene. Furthermore, disability as a positive force showed that innovative things and ideas where encountered while working inclusively. Also a new aesthetics was developed by working with actors with a disability. The stereotype was questioned and this was the beginning of disabled led theatre. The oppression of disabled actors/people was explored. Later in the ’90 audience was forced to watch political plays and this was not always what the audience was looking for. It ment that the theatre companies had to find another way to represent disability. And slowly trough time disabled writers became a vital part of the theatre scene. therefore the practice developed into a rich and diverse practice.

Also, integrated companies developed during the 21 century. This means that the company works with disabled and non-disabled dancers or actors. Not to forget that there is a difference between mental and physical disabled. Some companies make a distinction between these some not.

For me as a ‘Kaaskop’, ‘Cheesehead’ or in other words Dutchy it’s very interesting to see that the Netherlands is in the beginning of this process and we still have a long path to go. There are lots of Theatre workspaces like 5D, or Theater Maatwerk and Theatre Tiuri. Nevertheless, not many mainstream dance schools, companies work inclusively. Mostly the workspaces and theatres are part of health authorities which include daytime activities.  And by including you also have to exclude. Luckily I feel that there is a turning point coming now. Much more is organised for actors and dancers with a disability also integration is stimulated.

To conclude and as Gary and Robert said. If we look in the future, it would be great to shut down any disabled led theatre or integrated company because we don’t need it any more. It would be wonderful and great to see that there is at least 1 dancer or actor with a disability in each performance.

Joop Oonk