Arts AccessAbility Network Manitoba

Including artists and audiences with disabilities into all facets of the arts community.

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Article: An Afternoon of Playback Theatre

By Harry Paine

Was it just a fun afternoon? Was it theatre? Was it art? Could it be all? Who were the artists?

Arts and Disability Network Manitoba co-sponsored a Playback Theatre event with the Red Threads Theatre Troupe that turned out to be one of the premier enlightening and at the same time enjoyable events that we have attended for some time.

The “audience” were mostly members of ADNM who may or may not have been familiar with Playback Theatre. If they were not, there may have been some hesitation in knowing that they were going to be part of the performance. However, the Troupe members drew us in and made us comfortable with them, one another and ourselves.

ADNM presented a description on their Facebook page in this way:

Playback Theatre is a form of improvisational theatre that starts with listening deeply to people’s stories and then transforming them spontaneously into theatre. It is especially powerful in honoring the voices of people from marginalized communities and in helping to build understanding across differences. It is hoped that playback theatre could be a tool to both build community within ADNM and to educate the public.

Red Threads is a small group of very talented actors who express that talent by doing well what a good actor should do and that is to make the audience feel ‘on stage’ and involved in the performance. They came from different backgrounds and had come to theatre from via different routes that added to their strength. They are open to new members.

Playback, improvisational and performance arts is becoming one of the widest forms of emotional, political or personally therapeutic forms of art across the world. Wherever people gather in groups or a crowd eventually artistic expression finds a way to the surface to express that group’s purpose.

Arts and Disability Network Manitoba supports artists with disabilities in achieving individual artistic excellence, promotes higher visibility of these artists within all disciplines and promotes policies and practices intended to make the arts more accessible to all Manitobans.

Being a professional artist in this era is really a hard way to make a living. If you thought that those ‘starving artists’ of the late 19th Century living in a garret in Paris had it bad, think again. Who then is a professional? Possibly someone whose life’s focus at any given time is their art? This writer first discovered I was a professional when someone asked “Do you get paid for what you write?”

The answer was easy: I did, so that made me a professional.

But what about painters who never sell a canvass while they are alive but their works become priceless after they die, there are a number of them. Were they professionals when they lived or after they were dead?

Most prolific of all in these days of technology, social media and widespread economic poverty the need and the existing possibility of finding a way to supplement artistic endeavours with a ‘real’ job is often a necessity. Can those who work at other jobs and still sell art be defined as a professional artist?

Many artists with different abilities live in a world that is still alien and discriminatory for them, indeed that is one of the main reasons for the existence of ADNM. These artists demand that their disability and the lack of equal facilities must be recognized in order for them to reach their full potential as artists. Does that make them any less of a professional?

Lastly, there are a host of others in society who come to art as professionals and who may be marginalized in other ways, two that come to mind are parents who do not have other jobs, both married and single who are also artists. This writer believes such ‘house-persons’ very much contribute economic value to society. The second group is older adults who may live on a pension and develop artistic skills later in life. Would anyone suggest that Grandma Moses was not a professional?

It is a complex question and there will probably never be a definitive answer. The experience of participating with Red Threads in this workshop of ‘artists’ was a real education and proved once again that becoming part of Arts and Disability Network Manitoba is one of the most valuable contributions to connecting with the broader community of the artistic world. Kudos to ADNM for this outreach.

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