If These Spasms Could Speak – Programme Note by Pádraig Naughton
Posted: 6 September, 2014
If These Spasms Could Speak is a celebration of cerebral palsy in performance. Part stand-up (sit-down) cabaret and part theatre performance, Robert Softley tells stories from his life and the lives of others. He challenges the audience to reflect on how they view impairment, perceive restrictions and value difference.
The terms disability arts and disability culture are unfamiliar to most people who form part of the Irish disability community, but Robert Softley’s work as a performer and activist is very much part of both. For audiences who see If These Spasms Could Speak at this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival, Robert’s performance takes them to the disability politics of the UK, with a uniquely Scottish twist. But it also takes audiences to a place that could, to a greater or lesser extent, be any country, where shame, ignorance, prejudice, fear and power shape both the lives of people with disabilities and, conversely, how they choose to shape their lives within society.
Irish disability politics is largely based on a consensus model and the disability community is a broad church comprising people with disabilities, professionals responsible for their care and welfare, service organisations, and their families and friends. On the other hand, disability politics in the UK is predominantly disability lead.
Disability arts can be described as an artistic expression of a lived experience of a disabling world, either in the subjects it explores or the way it’s made. The history of disability arts has its history in the protest movement of the 1980s that resulted in the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act of 1995. Those demonstrations were lively and often confrontational affairs that became ever more visual and performative as they grew. The post-demo parties became disability cabaret nights. Therein lies the roots of disability arts and culture: a sense of individual and collective identity and pride realised in a creative way.
In many respects, it’s not important whether we do or do not have the same disability culture as our neighbours. Culture is undoubtedly something which evolves at a particular time and place and can’t necessarily be imported or replicated. However, what is important is that artists and performers share their lived experience through their practice, that audiences are exposed to these unique stories told in creative and innovative ways, and that work like If These Spasms Could Speak is yet another moment for people with disabilities to claim and shape their own identity and be proud.
We know you want to look, to stare even. It’s OK. You’re allowed…