In the battle for inclusion, no group has to fight more strongly than those who are challenged physically, intellectually and emotionally – and the people who love them. Two weeks in a row I have seen that that ‘fight’ manifested gloriously in two of the biggest performance spaces in Sydney.
Last night in the Studio at the Opera House twenty-six excited and diversely ‘challenged’ performers from the inclusive company, Midnight Feast, combined their funny and beautiful stories and dreams in a performance entitled Fireside. The buzz from the stage was exhilarating as they celebrated “abilities rather than limitations”. The buzz from the audience of proud parents and supporters was just as uplifting.
Last week, at the Qudos Bank Arena, the Sydney Schools Spectacular’s D’Arts Ensemble of 171 students from 29 schools across the state, four of them in remote areas, ‘wowed’ the thousands strong audiences with their performance to I Wanna Go Out Dancin’. I sat beside parents, who had travelled all the way from Forbes with their son, and watched their smiles mix with tears as he danced proudly in yet another Spectacular.
The struggle to be included across all aspects of society is hard enough. In the Arts it is even harder. Kylie Harris, founder and artistic director of Midnight Feast, explains that:
… some communities are left out of our main stages and screens. If they are represented it is tokenism or an off-handed reference for diversity’s sake, but the lived experience of any human being is equally valid and equally worthy of celebration …
‘Celebrate’ was the key word of Midnight Feast’s performance last night as Fireside took its performers on a journey to find a Willy Wonka-style ‘Golden Ticket’ to see their dreams come true.
By sharing those dreams and their stories – with Harris, Drs Stephen Sewell (Head of Writing for Performance, NIDA) and Suzanne Osmond (Acting Head of Cultural Leadership, NIDA) and a dedicated team of carers and creatives – these enthusiastic and committed performers developed a production that told of their different journeys, the things they hate, the mistakes they made, and the many things they want to do.
They did so as they were ‘abducted’ by a group of Aliens in a spaceship that eventually broke down and no one knew how to fix. Lights flashed, doors opened and shut on a screen above them. Escape seemed impossible until Heath Ramsey, as Edward St John, suggested they escape to their Happy Places – one of which involved a group of Brazilian Fantasy Dancers.
From those Happy Places they found the key to escape was … INCLUSION … and the stimulation and invigoration it can bring. They celebrated accordingly.
The excitement and elation of this proud group of performers – and their opening night audience – was inspiring, as was their confidence, dignity and honesty as they answered questions from the audience.
Kylie Harris’ face shone with pride as she passed the microphone from one excited performer to another – and as she announced that NIDA is investing in fully inclusive facilities, so that the company can keep working there as it “explores humanity in all its diversity and challenges assumptions”.
This is a production that shows just what can be achieved when kindness and respect, confidence and conviction, belief and hope overcome prejudices and preconceptions, injustices and intolerance. As Miss First Nation Drag Queen, Josie Baker (alias Joseph Cardona) exalted the cast in the rousing finale “The future, my darlings, is bright and inclusive”.