THERE WAS a time, and not so long ago, when disability arts was regarded as little more than a kind of occupational therapy, like basket-weaving, and viewed with polite, yet condescending indulgence.
That is changing as disabled artists, whether working as individuals or in ensembles, increasingly produce work that engages, stimulates, entertains, and moves audiences, and which demands respect and affirmation on its own terms.
In Galway, Blue Teapot Theatre Company has produced two of the most-talked-about and admired shows in recent Galway Arts Festivals - Sanctuary and ID - attesting to the exciting calibre of work of which disabled artists are capable.
Blue Teapot was founded by the Brothers of Charity Services and that same pioneering organisation has also been closely involved in another outstanding production featuring performers with intellectual disabilities; Trickster which wowed audiences at the Black Box last weekend.
Trickster was a co-production between the Brother of Charity’s That’s Life arts programme and Bradford’s Mind The Gap, England’s largest intellectual disability theatre company.
The lead artist in this vigourous, ebullient and freewheeling promenade-style music/theatre show was Jez Colborne, musician, composer, all-round performer and something of a Pied Piper for the swirling legion of singers, instrumentalists and actors that made up the cast.
As the show began Colborne took up stations on a stage erected on the back of a pick-up truck and launched into the raucous title song ‘Trickster’ which immediately got the audience tapping their feet and swaying along.
As well as the truck, the set featured scaffolding, a shipping container and small cranes creating the impression of a building site, and Colborne’s soundscape evoked the metallic rumble and percussive clang of this industrial milieu. The wild sounds of nature raining and storming were also woven into his potent sonic mix.
What was perhaps most impressive was the emotional range of the music and songs that made up the show, which ranged pieces yearning for home, a wistful air played on a barrel organ, an aching song of love gone awry, songs of fiery rebelliousness and punkish zest, and even that fine old Irish standard ‘O Ró Sé Do Bheatha Abhaile’.
Alongside the music was a loose dramatic narrative featuring sou’wester clad ‘Wayfarers’, female Furies, occasional eruptions of heavy weather, and dramatic confrontations.
From start to finish there was never a dull moment and it ended, fittingly with Colborne, looking every inch the Trickster incarnate dancingly leading the troupe of performers out of the theatre in a joyous procession. Great stuff!