A playwrights commission by Arts & Disability Ireland featuring Mary Kinsella, Sonya Kelly and Stephen Kennedy. Curated by Gavin Kostick.
Society has spent a long time pushing disability around; it’s a delight to see the depth in these plays, which of course take even greater delight in pushing society back.
The plays follow on a request from Gavin Kostick, to present to them three new works, built around the general theme of disability. They were commissioned by Gavin, Literary Manager of Fishamble, who has been a sterling advocate for disability and the arts through supporting practitioners, productions and professionalism in the area. This has been a fruitful venture, producing three very disparate pieces.
Sonya Kelly and Stephen Kennedy are both well-established, professional and distinguished creative artists. Sonya’s “The Wheelchair On My Face’ struck a chord with people, and so has become embedded in popular theatre performance, and she is both accomplished performance artist and writer. Stephen has established an enviable reputation as an artist in his own right, particularly in his plays on the Beatles. He has also created what is now an institution, Nighthawks At The Cobalt, a live arts and culture show.
Writing out of the ‘That’s Life’ base in Galway (with whom she has had a previously published work), Mary Kinsella is a writer just starting to establish her voice, exploring the structures of possibility that drama might offer. Working to establish control of the dramatic form, she clearly has a voice: strong, tough, and directly to the point. In ‘Watching over Me’ the point is that disability is enough burden without a selfish society adding to the load. And yes, we have all visited family or friends in The Almond Blossom, and someday we’re probably going to be in there, too. Trying to get to the toilet, and the staff have gone on strike… Disability and society are inextricably linked.
We’ve been on the top deck as well, confirmed these nuggets, these dramas – unless we choose to be deaf. Does disability in fact provide real freedom, that so-called ‘ableness’ does not? On the one hand perhaps, for comparison, a play we’ve all been brought up with, ‘Waiting for Godot,’ where players, director and audience have been trained, within an inch of their lives, not to deviate from the sacred text. On the other hand, the joy of meeting a play like ‘Top Deck,’ where Sonya throws everybody into it with the glorious introductory statement that the piece …“has been written for you to play and mess with as you see fit.” You know immediately you’re going to have fun with this one, no strait-jackets here, thank you very much.
We may not have been aboard ‘Project Pegasus’ (until we read Stephen’s play), in which the moon has a glorious disabled parking permit plastered on its face. It may be a place to park them/us all right, but NASA need to find a disabled Irish person to send there. While it appears we are being offered an Irish Times journalist called Frankie O’Toole, unfortunately (well…) the deputy director self-selects. Good old disability!
How do you do a play about disability? There are almost too many choices, since society’s love of classification, stratification, and objectification developed in relatively recent times. Do you pick the disabled bit – the deafness, the snarled up body, the madness – or is it the phenomenon of being less able, the view from inside so to speak, how the curious object in society really “feels.” Should we writers be focusing on the medical or the social disadvantage, or should we even take a different starting point, and consider whether disability necessarily implies disadvantage? Or is it variable? Getting on the aeroplane at the head of the queue is certainly an advantage if you use a wheelchair, but clearly not so much if your bedroom is upstairs. Do you start from a point that assesses whether disability is only describable, or indeed only exists, when it is placed within a society? If we are all brown people, or black people, or pink people, of course it doesn’t matter. And if we were to fly to Pluto, and meet its three-legged denizens, we might only then decide that being biped disabled us severely.
Do we examine disability as an effect, with clearly describable causes, as for example with biological impairments, deficits, handicaps, limitations (yes, you can open the bag and choose lots of words, and indeed, as in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,’ make any word mean anything you want, just because you choose). Or do we write about it in terms of a minority sport, where it becomes a disability just because fewer people than we have in our group sport it?
Have we lost the opportunity of writing that wonderful new play about two homosexuals, now that the marriage referendum has been passed and our two protagonists are no longer disabled? Do we handle the topic with fire and fierceness, or skewer it through with humour and twist, so you don’t get the point until it comes out your back? As you look at disability, it extends wildly in all directions – towards medicine, towards sociology, into philosophy, our life, their life, the life of those who are ours and the life of those who are the other.
There are so many opportunities, which is an irony, as disability is supposed to reduce opportunity, to limit potential, to start degrading you into a commodity or a thing.
Maybe, as these three plays seem all to have done, we should just stick to writing about humans: isn’t that disability enough, just being ourselves? And if that writing instills fear or terror, or moves us to laughter, it’s good drama.
Play around and mess with it, it will do you good.
John Austin Connolly.
Watching Over Me by Mary Kinsella Curated by Gavin Kostick
Top Deck by Sonya Kelly Curated by Gavin Kostick
Project Pegasus by Stephen Kennedy Curated by Gavin Kostick