Relaxed Performance: Exploring University-based Training Across Fashion, Theatre, and Choir

Authors: Chelsea Temple Jones, Carla Rice, Kimberlee Collins, Susan Dion

Over the course of the 2019—2020 academic year, the British Council and Bodies in Translation (BIT) at the Re•Vision Centre for Art and Social Justice at the University of Guelph partnered with three universities in Turtle Island, in the province known as Ontario, to introduce Relaxed Performance (RP) training modules into existing fashion studies, theatre, and choral studies curriculums. Through this RP Curriculum Pilot project, up to 240 students at X University, York University, and the University of Guelph, respectively, learned best practices and how to incorporate RP principles into their mid-term and final projects, which were open to the public.

This report chronicles the RP Curriculum Pilot, a project built on findings from the 2019 “Relaxed Performance: Exploring Accessibility in the Canadian Theatre Landscape” report, which pointed to the promise of disability justice–led RP training and delivery for improv- ing accessible performances. Over the course of this training, BIT researchers employed a mixed methods framework using surveys, interviews, participant observation, and analysis of materials produced through the RP training. Through this data generation, we gained insight into RP as a vibrant, creative intervention with roots in European theatre–based disability activism. Each discipline engaged in RP for different reasons and developed its own set of strategies around making a crip fashion show, a relaxed theatre production, and a choral ensemble performance more accessible; all of these performances reflect RP’s growing application across sectors.

The work of RP is community-based and must be community-led, beginning with the meaningful inclusion of disabled people as RP trainers, also known as Access Activators. Following the guiding principles of disability justice, RP’s community-based approach must preserve and nurture its vitality by expanding its context-specific relationships with those who report being underrepresented in RP, specifically Deaf and Indigenous communities. Additionally, it is clear that as a justice-oriented praxis, RP must continue to strive to respond to and develop context- and industry-specific “vital practices” that will vary across performances as RP continues to grow, becoming transdisciplinary and increasingly transnational in scope.

Jones, C. T., Rice, C., Collins, K., & Dion, S. (2022). Relaxed Performance: Exploring University-based Training Across Fashion, Theatre, and Choir. Re•Vision: The Centre for Art and Social Justice, University of Guelph, Guelph.

Access after COVID-19: How disability culture can transform life and work

Authors: Carla Rice, Eliza Chandler, Elisabeth Harrison, Lacey Croft

When COVID-19 first struck in Canada, media reports described a surge of deaths in long-term care homes, retirement homes and congregate residences. Headlines announced the particular dangers of COVID-19 to older people, disabled people, fat people and people with “comorbidities” or “pre-existing conditions.” Authorities sometimes mentioned the underfunding of the care sector, poor wages, unjust staffing policies and inadequate infection control practices as factors contributing to the upsurge in COVID-19 deaths. Most headlines evidenced ableist thinking in their suggestions that the underlying cause of the tragedy rested in the bodies of populations living in these settings—those they described as uniquely or naturally “vulnerable” to dying from COVID-19.

Rice, C., Chandler, E., Harrison, E., Croft, L. (2021). Access after COVID-19: How disability culture can transform life and work. Monitor: Progressive News, Views and Ideas, 28(4), pp. 28-30.

Mobilizing Interference as Methodology and Metaphor in Disability Arts Inquiry

Authors: Carla Rice, K. Alysse Bailey, Katie Cook

This article interrogates the limits and possibilities of interference as methodology and metaphor in video-based research aiming to disrupt ableist understandings of disability that create barriers to health care. We explore the overlapping terrain of diffractive and interference methodologies, teasing apart the metaphorical-material uses and implications of interference for video-makers in our project. Using the digital/multimedia stories created and an interview as research artifacts, we illuminate how interference manifested in disabled makers’ lives, how interference operated through the research apparatus, and how the videos continue to hold agency through their durability in the virtual realm. Drawing on feminist post-philosophies of matter (Barad) and use (Ahmed), we argue that the videos disrupt the gaze that fetishizes disabled bodies, thereby interfering with cultural-clinical processes that abnormalize disability. The research apparatus interfered with makers’ subjectivities yet also brought people together to generate something new—a community that creates culture and contests its positioning as marginal.

Rice, C., Bailey, K. A., & Cook, K. (2021). Mobilizing Interference as Methodology and Metaphor in Disability Arts Inquiry. Qualitative Inquiry.

Re•Storying Autism: An Interview with Patty Douglas and Carla Rice

Authors: David Denborough, Patty Douglas, & Carla Rice

The Re•Storying Autism project is a Canadian–British collaboration that seeks to interrupt dominant and limiting narratives of autism through an alternative storytelling process. Short films made by people who identify as autistic or who have attracted a label of autism tell preferred stories that shift understandings, expand representations and create space for practices of difference. Carla Rice and Patty Douglas, two of the project leaders, caught up with David Denborough to reflect on the principles and practices embraced by the Re•Storying Autism project, and to consider the project’s potential for contributing to a framework that may be useful to narrative practitioners.

Denborough, D., Douglas, P., & Rice, C. (2021). Re•Storying Autism: An interview with Patty Douglas and Carla Rice. International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work.

Stitching Language: Sounding Voice in the Art Practice of Vanessa Dion Fletcher

Author: Stephanie Springgay

This paper engages with the artistic practice and work of Vanessa Dion Fletcher (Potawatomi and Lenapé) from my perspective as a non-Indigenous academic and curator. Dion Fletcher and I have worked together over the past several years through discussions about her work, studio visits, and various events. In her art practice, Dion Fletcher uses porcupine quills and menstrual blood to inquire into a range of issues and concepts including Indigenous language revitalization, feminist Indigenous corporeality, Land as pedagogy, decolonization, and neurodiversity. In particular her work confronts the ways that Indigeneity, the queer and gendered body, and disability are rendered expendable. In this paper I engage with Dylan Robinson’s “sovereign sense”: a transcorporeal mode of perception that is affective, land-based, and formed through relations between human and non-humans. Dion Fletcher’s work makes palpable this sense of sovereignty through its unruly and mutating feltness. Further, her work makes visible feminist Indigenous artistic acts of resurgence alongside the frictions at the intersections of settler colonialism and disability. Following Karyn Recollet, I contend that Dion Fletcher’s work activates an Indigenous affective experience of futurity and creative intimacy that in turn imagines disability and Indigeneity as sites through which new pedagogical relations can be formed.

Beyond Measure? Disability Art, Affect and Reimagining Visitor Experience

Authors: Christine Kelly, Michael Orsini

Disability, mad and d/Deaf arts are motivated to transform the arts sector and beyond in ways that foreground differing embodiments. But how do we know if such arts-based interventions are actually disrupting conventional ways of experiencing and consuming art? This article presents three themes from a critical literature review relevant to curating and creating artwork meant to spur social change related to non-normative bodies. We highlight examples that push beyond standard survey measurement techniques, such as talk-back walls and guided tours by people with lived experiences. We also explore the myriad affective outcomes of art and how we might measure emotional reactions, recognizing that disability itself is imbricated in structures of feeling. We argue that such efforts must integrate concepts of access from the field of critical disability studies. Ultimately, tools for measuring audience response to politicized art must contribute to challenging and transforming these structures.

Representing Disability, D/deaf, and Mad Artists and Art in Journalism: Identifying Ableist Fault Lines and Promising Crip Practices of Representation

Authors: Chelsea Jones, Nadine Changfoot, Kirsty Johnston

This paper revisits the dynamic discussion about journalism’s role in representing and amplifying disability arts at the 2019 Cripping the Arts Symposium. Chronicling the dialogue of the “Representation” panel which included artists, arts and culture critics, journalists, and scholars, it reveals how arts and culture coverage contributes to the cultivation of disability, D/deaf, and mad art. Given that the relationship between journalism and disability communities continues to be fractured in Canada, speakers were invited to reflect on journalism and disability arts in relation to their own engagement with media as subjects, authors, and critics of disability arts reviews. The methods for presentation were cripped in multiple ways to provide the fullest access possible. The panel concluded with examples of ableist fault lines in representation practices where the disabled figure is an absent “ghost” in journalistic representation, warnings against journalistic reliance on traditional and objective narratives, and a call for artists to claim and write their own stories. Ultimately, disabled, D/deaf, and mad artists need both control over artistic endeavours and output and influence over representation. This article reconnects journalism and disability communities, ultimately demonstrating that representation is a critical, co-constitutive process that can become more aesthetically and politically oriented toward social justice in its focus on disability, D/deaf, and mad arts.