Saturday, April 24, 2010

Yes we CanDance!

 I was kvetching in November 2009, on the NZ Disability Media Collective website, of which I am a member and commentator about the casting of a non-disabled actor to play the character of wheelchair using highschool student Artie Abrams, in the popular TV series Glee

Let me be clear I mean no disrespect to the actor Kevin McHale, who is 22, this is a casting decision, made by the shows Directors and Producers. The whole inclusion of a character with a disability is a bit sad anyway, as Artie seldom stars in solo songs or dances and is rarely integrated in to the high school glee club's group song and dance routines story lines. Which is to say Artie is pretty much sidelined. This is perhaps to be expected in a program, like so much TV with one dimensional characters. There's Kurt who is Caucasian-American and gay, Tina who is Asian-American, Mercedes who is African-American, Sue who is the mean Caucasian-American lesbian sports coach, Artie who is  disabled. Season 2 has returned with the same line-up of characters and actors.

No one is allowed to be oh I don't know even 2 dimensional, say disabled and gay, African-American and disabled, Asian-American and lesbian, Latin-American and have Downs Syndrome, Native-American and the smartest kid in school. Where so much is one times removed, you can be a gay couple, (Rachel's parents) or a sister with Downs Syndrome (cheerleading coach Sue's sister), if you are a relative of a main character. You can't be the main character.

What got us talking was this well researched article considering why actors with disabilities do not get roles in TV and film even for characters with disabilities.  'Glee' wheelchair episode hits bump with disabled  by Lynn Elber. 

Upon viewing the episode 'Wheels' where the whole glee club make a bad attempt at all performing a dance in wheelchairs  I wrote on NZDMC

'...But I wondered whimsically if like synchronized swimming, somewhere in the world there wasn't a paralympic synchronized dancing team that would do a much better job!? It is kind of an anomaly in 2009, that Asian, African-American, and possibly gay (?) actors get to play characters relevant to their identities, but characters with disabilities are still played by non-disabled actors. Apart from a few wonderful exceptions - Marlee Matlin, (who happens to be Deaf) Hollywood rarely allows disabled actors to portray characters with disabilities, or characters for whom disability is incidental to their character...'

Well search no further, here right in my own back yard as it were are the CanDance Team. I stumbled upon crowd favorites Jamie DeChamplain (in purple), and partners Sarah Lapp (in pink) and Matt Pregent (in blue) performing at an event this week. Sarah using  an electric wheelchair, damn she has good control in the turn on a dime 360 spin! Jamie and Matt in manual wheelchairs, are hip-hop on wheels.  The trio's synchronization, innovation, and sense of fun is awesome.  My personal favorite move, when all three linked in a row do the 360 spin. Copyright the name of that move right now people! What I really like about this troupe, is all the dancers being wheelchair users. Sometimes with mixed ability groups there is a sense  of inequality in the movements somehow, with an able-bodied dancer, dancing 'around' a dancer in a wheelchair, or 'guiding' them to make traditional ballet moves. The all wheelchair troupe make up their own moves so it is much more natural.

They are young, hip, and going places! Can they act and sing? Yep I expect some of them will. Below a clip of Sarah, Jamie and others of the CanDance Team performing that signature move in Robson Square, and ASL Singing along with the song lyrics. They told me during the performances for the opening ceremonies of the Paralympic Games 2010 there was only 1 wheelchair dancer, which they thought was kind of tokenistic and pathetic, on behalf of the organizers, directors and choreographers. You can contact CanDance through Photos by Matthew Wild.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Magdalena Aotearoa

Part 1 of a  two part series I wrote about working in performance and video, pages 9 -10, Magdalena Aotearoa Newsletter, Issue 35 April 2010. Traverses my experience since the 1999 Magdalena Aotearoa International Performance Festival, including thinking about language, humour and accent. Download the PDF here

Here's a sneak preview of the beginning: 'Kia ora koutou! I was very inspired by the December 2009 Magdalena Aotearoa Newsletter! Reflections on the diverse journeys many have taken in the 10 years since the magnificent 1999 Magdalena Aotearoa International Performance Festival. Like Miff Moore, Lisa Maule, Jale Karabekir; and the recent work by Madeline McNamara, Natalie Marcet, Jo Randerson, Jan Bolwel, Helen Moulder, Judith Jones. In Aotearoa, Denmark, Norway, Argentina, Turkey; prompted me to reflect on my own journey.

In 1999 I was involved in theatre, poetry, storytelling, including with Louise Maich who was preparing her show Drevna Viscera for the March 1999 Magdalena Festival. Drevna Viscera – ancient flesh, my many mother’s tongue, Louise’s tender exploration of her ancestry, history and connection to the former Yugoslavia. Together as Pandora’s Box we produced performances and an exhibition with women artists at the Silo Theatre and Kamo in Auckland May 1999.......'

I am very fond of the Pandora's Box logo, I drew it while sitting with a friend who was having chemo. The bag of medicine was down my trousers to keep it  warm, as if it was too cold it made her have an epileptic seizure. We laugh about that day sometimes (she took photos!), it always seemed  to sum up women working in performance! "And so while rehearsing my show, I drew the logo, at the hospital with  a bag of chemo down my trousers......"

We LOVED the Pandora's Box Art Exhibition, I had the joy of being the curator of, we wanted  to leave it up FOREVER! All the work was of such high standard, and diverse mediums, interesting to see where they and their work as artists has gone ten years on. There was stone sculpture by Patz McGahey, which seemed to be kaitiaki (guardians), paintings of older women's lips by Fran Marno, silkscreens by Justina Gruber, a goddess costume by Louise Maich, Raranga (weaving) by Tania Remana, painting/photo by Lisa Benson. Thanks to Jan Morrison we got to answer the question we have all been wondering - how many women does it take to hang  a 200 hundred pound tile heart with a cartoon on it, on a brick will? FOUR! Plus me nervously biting my fist, I worried for the whole 2 weeks the exhibition was up it could fall from the wall and hurt some one! It didn't tho. Tracey Tawhiao performed poetry, and Lisa Costain  music,  with us at the Silo Theatre.

In part 2 to be published with Magdalena later in the year, I consider disability arts in Aotearoa and Canada, how NFB, Kickstart, and IGODAP ultimately lead me back to working in performance. With a commission from Michele Decottignies Director of the Balancing Acts Festival, and working with theatre director Jan Derbyshire.

Helpfully the fabulous 1999 Magdalena Festival has been archived online. Including lots of photos, the festival program, and insights from key organizers. You can read more about the herstory of the development of Magdalena Aotearoa on their website.

Or the establishment of the international 'The Magdalena Project is a dynamic cross-cultural network of women’s theatre and performance, facilitating critical discussion, support and training. The network was founded in 1986 and currently spans more than 50 countries, with autonomous national groups organising festivals, gatherings and events on a regular basis.'

With events coming up in 2010 in Australia, Brazil, and Italy; in 2011, Wales; 2012, India.
Their website is available in English, French, and Spanish. 

I also reflected on my development as a filmmaker on the Development Facebook site, a film by  Marian Evans, about a woman trying to make a film... 

So like we say in the L&P (Lemon and Paeroa) soft drink ads -  World Famous - in New Zealand!  

If you want to brush up on your New Ziln accent after reading the above, I recommend the below clip:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Close Encounters

In honour of Pink Shirt Day to stop bullying, and Poetry Month, here's a poem which opens my Interdisciplinary Show and Poetry Chapbook  (In) valid. The show uses a 'patch' I designed with the programs MaxMSP/Jitter to turn music into colors.

Close encounters 

do you remember
that film
from 1977
close encounters
of the third kind
came out when I was 10

where people communicated
with beings from
another planet
with musical notes
and colored lights

it always made me cry
always made me wonder
when my people
were coming
to get me

the truth is
they don’t come in spaceships
they come in ones
or twos

they don’t necessarily
look like you
but you can tell them
just the same
you'll know

when you meet.