A self-described disability theatre company is about to premiere a circus production highlighting various members of the deaf, blind and disabled community. Inside Out Theatre has collaborated with artists and choreographers to present, Oh Clare! Divergent Dances.
The production at Eau Claire Market is intended to celebrate differences, showcasing the gifts of people with different abilities.
Co-choreographer Erin Ball is a double amputee and is a pioneer in the development of adaptive circus arts. Ball wants the performers to feel welcome.
“It’s magical to watch and be a part of.”
“When I started doing circus, I wasn’t an amputee. I had experience of being a circus artist as both non-disabled and disabled performer. I noticed there’s not a lot of representation, and there’s a gap between knowing how to offer and include people,” Ball said.
Most of her work is centered around accessibility for artists and audiences.
“It’s about exploring how bodies interpret movement and themes, as well as how they interact with aerial apparatuses and what does creating mean for your body,” Ball said. “Everybody has such vast and unique lived experiences — they are contributing on the project: everything shifts and people offer more and more of themselves.”
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Ebony Gooden is a deaf artist and dancer. She said the show has the potential to reflect society.
“It feels amazing, because we are not an afterthought in this production. We have been there right from the beginning,” Gooden said.
“I am deaf but I felt at peace and I had a sense of belonging to this group. I wasn’t becoming a burden — I actually belong.”
“Everyone has potential at any time to become disabled. You could have an accident or as you age something could happen with your sight. We have to be mindful to take care of the gifts we have and if we lose them we have to be ready to accommodate,” Gooden said.
Gooden said sign language will be embedded in the show.
“This show is an exemplary model of what can be done in everyday life. When I have to sign solo, how do we make it accessible for audiences who don’t sign? We did, by creating written word that augments my piece.”
As a performer in a wheelchair, Riki Entz, said they were excited to learn circus skills.
“I’m what’s called quadriparesis: instead of paralysis, I have a muscle and sensory weakness in my 4 limbs,” Entz said. “I was intimidated and scared at first that I wouldn’t be able to hold on tight enough to the ropes, but I was empowered by having Erin here working with people.”
They are fearless in their artistry, always pushing their own boundaries.
“I kept challenging the dance studios to take a wheelchair dancer and they would say: ‘We have this one wheelchair dancing class,’ but it was movement, not dance. I didn’t want to sit in a chair and shake a maraca — that wasn’t what made me happy.
“If someone tells my I can’t do something, all I hear is try it harder,” Entz said.
“We have to be our own role models and try things nobody has tried before.”
Kathy M. Austin, another performer, said she is challenging her own comfort zones while hoping people think about barriers for others.
“From the blind perspective, it’s hard,” Austin said. “I worry about running into the other dancers, smacking them with my cane and I can’t figure out what’s going on at times. But you just listen and feel for the sense of where the other dancers are.”
Austin said it’s important to be recognized.
“Employment is incredibly difficult among the blind people — 90 per cent are unemployed. It’s really important as a blind performer to be paid,” Austin said. “I also hope to fight to get spoken word in dance, because generally dance is done in silence.”
The show also intended to be an inclusive experience for the audience. There will be a sensory friendly viewing area, ASL interpreters and a touch tour ahead of the performance for the deaf and hard of hearing community. The show debuts Saturday at 2pm and their second performance is Sunday at 2pm. Admission is by donation.
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