Blog 5: Caroline Bowditch (Weren't you expecting me?)

5 April 2018


Challenging questions – what do you need?

At a recent training session for Imaginate artists on ‘How to make your work more accessible’ I asked people to introduce themselves. Nothing usual about that however, along with asking people their names and what they had come to the session ‘seeking’ I asked ‘Is there anything you need while we are here together that would make this session better (eg more accessible, comfortable ‘doable’) for you?’ For me this is the sort of routine question we should all be asking each other more often but for one participant this was a revelation. No-one in all the training they’d been in had ever asked them that. Why not? For fear that we might not be able to give it to them?

I often don’t think anything I do is particularly clever or innovative but every now and then comes a moment like this and realise maybe not everyone DOES work in the same way as I do. I felt really proud of my practice in this moment and I imagine a lot more people will be being asked about what they need by the artists that were in that room.

The Results are in!

I recently asked Jo Verrent, Senior Producer at Unlimited, why she felt there were so few disabled artists making work for young audiences? Her email response said ‘in all my time at Unlimited there have been so very few people applying across all art forms to make work that is either directly for children or young people or that is family friendly. We have had some - but a tiny percentage.’

She went on to say ‘Making work for children is seen often as an entry point rather than a destination.’

For myself, as a mid career artist, I think it’s some of the MOST challenging work I’ve generated as a maker. I can’t imagine having had the confidence to make either Snigels (The Adventures of Snigel and Snigel and Friends) any earlier in my career. Although I do question some of my choreographic choices every time I crawl up the ramp in Snigel and Friends with the mantra in my head ‘You’re 46 FFS!! Why are you doing this to yourself?’ I do it for the babies – they deserve it!

Email from a Mum

We recently performed the Adventures of Snigel at Platform Theatre, Easterhouse. Emerging from the auditorium, in my giant snail shell, we were greeted by a 30 strong crowd of excited little faces. They followed us diligently and enthusiastically on our journey through the building. They chased bubbles, offered dance moves and stayed with us the whole time. We had a great time and think the audience did too.

A couple of days later I received an email from a Mum who had been at the show with her son. She told me this:

‘It (the performance) did make me think a lot about how few disabled actors there are making work, and how fewer there are for young audiences.  What I really loved about what you did was that although it sent a powerful message about how important it is for us to see disabled actors, because the show was so good it just made the two things fit together so naturally.   Yes people are disabled and yes they make great shows. Get over it people! Now where are the others like you?  It feels like you are blazing a trail that we now have to embed in our culture.’

Where are the others like me? Good question. And that has been part of my exploration over the past year. Sadly, I have yet to find the answer.

Differences in audience response

As many of you will be aware disabled people who manage to make it out of their house, have job, a family and basically have a life are often seen as being inspirational.  Part of the reason we’re seen as being inspirational is because we sadly live in a world that has such low expectations of anyone that has a lived experience of disability that often many things we do, however mundane, are viewed as amazing. In the disability community we talk about this as ‘Disability Porn’ My incredible friend, Stella Young, does a much better job of explaining it in her TED talk.

So this inspiration thing is something I’m regularly greeted with when I perform or present to adult audiences. It often comes up in a post-show conversation and Q & A sessions.

The fascinating thing that I’ve found performing for under 1’s, and their grown ups, is that those conversations don’t happen. Parents don’t see this work as being inspiring, they see it as joyful and important. They talk about the beauty of the work and how much their wee one enjoyed it, how they’d never seen their baby focus on anything for so long. NEVER do they say, even in the anonymous feedback forms, how inspiring it was.

I often think about the quiet wisdom that sits within those that are so regularly over looked – babies, new and not so new mums, people without verbal language. We could learn so much if we opened ourselves up to new ways of listening.

Widen your social circle

It was acknowledged in one of the training sessions that as artists we rarely get the opportunity to exchange artistic ideas and work with people that are ‘outside of our circle’. This highlighted for me the importance of creating spaces where diverse artists can come together to share practice, ask questions and try things out. Where are these platforms? Who can create them? How can we make them happen?

By having the chance to move ‘outside of our circle’ we are greeted with the fantastic opportunity to expand our thinking, dispel the myths that we carry, challenge our unconscious biases, ask questions of ourselves and others. Without this we run the risk of maintaining the status quo. Interesting art doesn’t develop or thrive in a vacuum of familiarity.