I’m sitting writing this outside in the Irish sun, a precarious sun if ever there was one. I’m on a bench outside Cillin Chaoimghin (pronounced ‘Killeen Kweeveen’, I think) the self-contained little house I’m staying in at the Glendalough Hermitage run by the Sisters of Mercy in Laragh, County Wicklow. I’m here to try to do some work on the Ph D, which is why I’m writing this - as a way of avoiding doing some work on the Ph D.
I left Kim, Stuart, Glen, Ben and Isaac rather abruptly at Manchester airport as they headed off to Terminal 3 to London, Singapore and back to Christchurch and I went to Terminal 1 and on to Dublin. I was quite sad to part with them even though the time in Leeds was pretty hectic with three performances of Still Lives in the Ludus Festival and the paper I was giving at the PSi 18 Conference.
Kim and particularly Stuart put in a tremendous amount of work looking after Glen and looking out for Isaac and Ben and teching and running the performances. It was fantastic and a dream come true and the result of a year’s planning to get Glen and the others to Leeds but the support Glen needs that Stuart and Kim provided is intense and demanding. Glen handled the travel and performance demands incredibly well with great tolerance and humour but his care needs are high. I think it was worth it and will always be worth it to work with Glen in performance. For me he stands for all those people who struggle to do the every day things that people with unaided mobility, motor control and access to clear speech take for granted.
More than this, though, Glen’s humour and enthusiasm and desire to connect with others is what makes him Glen, not the wheelchair or the impaired movement or the help needed in eating, washing and toileting. Glen is potential, great potential, often unrealized due to the mainly cursory nature of most social interaction. To interact with Glen needs time and commitment. My experience is that it is worth it. Performance gives a little opportunity to interact with Glen – on a very limited and often problematic basis – but an interaction, nonetheless.
Performance is the showy aspect of Different Light but the ongoing process of developing interaction, which is much longer than the forty five minutes or so of Still Lives, is the real basis of the work. On trips like this the hidden labour that Brecht talked about has been done by Stuart and Kim and by Greta who did so much to get us funding and Paul who after the earthquakes opened up ways of working with the larger group which are developmental and educational rather than my work which is far too often driven by the imperative to rush to public performance. Paul is really interested in what the performers of Different Light consider performance to be. A really provocative and fundamental question. He also initiated a lot of the work in trying to allow Glen different ways to access ‘voice’ in performance.
To give one example, Paul did some theatre exercises with Glen, Ben and Isaac where one person was blindfolded and another had to guide them around obstacles using simple instructions such as Right, Left, Forward, Backward. From this came the kind of motif of UP DOWN LEFT RIGHT IN OUT (originally describing the movement potential of Glen’s chair),which recur throughout the newly expanded version of Still Lives. Ben’s attention goes IN and OUT. Isaac goes IN and OUT to McDonalds as a part-time worker. In post-quake Christchurch rents, prices and unemployment are going UP, the NZ government is getting more bullying and psychotic and moving to the RIGHT and so on. IN and OUT also of course refers to the inclusion/exclusion of people with disabilities, which is complicated, as often by seeking to include we merely uncover different levels of exclusion.
I had a day and a night in Dublin in all its ramshackle elegance and then caught St Kevin’s bus out to Laragh. Sometimes what you go out to meet is what has been inside you all along. I went to grab something to eat at the the Wicklow Heather. Inside the restaurant there is an Irish Writers Function room with glass cases containing first editions of Ulysses, Dracula and other works by Irish writers. That day there was a function booked for a group of people with intellectual disabilities and carers. The next day I walked out to the monastic site of St Kevin and the Upper Lake and again ran into another group of people with intellectual disabilities and carers. I asked around if this was a particular centre for care homes or suchlike but it isn’t.
At the lake I was lying back and taking in the beauty of the waters and the mountains and I became aware of a woman and a man nearby. I was aware of the woman kissing the man on the cheek and assumed they were a married couple. The man asked me if I was going to feed bread to the ducks and I made some sort of non-committal reply. Then I looked again and saw that the man was in fact noticeably intellectually disabled and the woman (his sister?) was very gently holding the back of his jacket as he leaned into the lake to feed bread to the ducks so that he wouldn’t fall in. Then it struck me that her kiss had been so gentle and the way she was caring for him was so tender without being patronizing. And it felt right to be there and see this instance of interdependence and love in that place where the mountains, lake and sky were also all held together in the same kind of interdependence and love.