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Inclusivity for Queensland

A leading theatre company of actors with and without disability. Angela Witcher shares her vision for inclusive theatre...

It is 2030 and you are taking your seat in Brisbane’s brand new multi-cultural performance centre to watch a production of Romeo and Juliet which has received rave reviews in Sydney and Melbourne. The performers playing the lead roles have both been nominated for major awards; she is in a wheelchair and he has Down’s syndrome. But this is not a production by a theatre company for people with disabilities, it is Australia’s leading touring company and these young actors have trained alongside actors without disabilities.

This is my vision for the future of theatre, theatre where inclusivity is commonplace, theatre where all participants have had equal opportunities in their training at school and in further education.

It sounds idealistic perhaps but it is already working in the UK, albeit on a small scale, with organisations like Chickenshed theatre in London opening up their educational Business and Technology Education Council courses to students with and without disabilities and allowing them to study and create alongside each other. Having spent time working with the company I can report that the students with disabilities do not all have mild disabilities, some of them need their carers with them but they all learn in the same way and no other special considerations are made. The course is fully recognised and counts towards a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre Arts.

For me that is true inclusivity, not placing a person with a disability in a token role but letting them show what they can do by allowing them full access to the same opportunities as their peers.

The Unlimited festival which features a range of performances and showcases by deaf and disabled artists is also going to become a regular bi-annual feature of the South Bank’s London program. The festival director recently attended Australian Performing Arts Market and has expressed a keen interest in contributions from Australian artists so there is certainly a market for inclusive work overseas. With 20% of Queenslanders reported to have a disability, there is sure to be a market in Queensland too.    Australia has some excellent theatre practitioners with and without disabilities who create, motivate and mentor people young and old and there is some interesting and thought provoking work coming through, particularly from South Australia where Restless Dance and No Strings Attached are based.

The Australia Council has this year launched its inaugural funding program for artists with disabilities.

But there is a gap to fill before we have a pool of performing artists with disabilities who can take that funding, particularly here in Queensland, and that gap needs to be filled with good quality, fully inclusive training opportunities.

For my work this means seeking funding and partnerships to take my ideas and methodologies into our schools, to encourage partnerships between our ‘special’ schools and mainstream schools and build interest in theatre and inclusivity from an early age.

Inclusive school performances, showings and reviews are essential so that the next generation will grow up to see this as the only way forward. The cheesy American show Glee promotes inclusivity amongst a group of students who are all ‘different’ or ‘quirky’ and a little bit of Glee will certainly go a long way here in Queensland, although our wheelchair bound actor will, of course, actually be wheelchair bound!

I am very positive about the future. We will see quality work emerging throughout Queensland and more professional, community and funding organisations embracing and promoting inclusive participation. Let’s work together to ensure the landscape starts to change for the better.

Angela Witcher is Artistic Director of InsideOutside Theatre Company.  Angela studied with the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, trained at E.15 Theatre School in London and has a Masters in Shakespeare studies from the University of Birmingham. She is passionate about promoting new work and talent and encouraging creativity to blossom in the most unlikely places. With 30 years experience as a performer, writer and director, Angela has worked predominantly in community theatre, classical theatre and experimental theatre.  Angela has also worked in youth theatre, providing career opportunities where there is little access to performance training and is committed to inclusivity in all areas of the arts. She is on the Board of Moreton Spaces, heads up the Performing Arts Group at Access Arts QLD and is a Queensland Cultural Champion.




Feature image: Emerging artists in Variete, photo by Tim Miller, Dreamcoat Photography.