We have come this week to Setúbal to meet with our partners who create a wonderful community music festival. I have previously met some members of the youth ensemble in my time with TCFT in Srebrenica last summer. A wonderfully talented bunch of young musicians.
Apart from the art discipline (I work in physical theatre and here they work with music) there is not much difference between The youth Ensemble here in Portugal and ‘Extraordinary Bodies Young Artists’ a youth company I facilitate in Dorset, UK.
Both companies are for young emerging artists. Both are an auditioned company. Both welcome and include disabled and non disabled people equally. Both present work at prestigious events and alongside their professional counterparts. Both are part of something bigger; something magical and mighty.
I feel happy here to see that inclusion in the arts is happening in different bright spots all over Europe - Setúbal is absolutely one of those. The festival here is magnificent. Yesterday I saw 1000 young people throughout the day parading the streets, dancing in courtyards and singing on the stages. I saw a lot of diversity, a lot of different people represented. Mixed amongst these community groups are professional orchestra’s and music professionals pushing boundaries with digital technology to create accessible instruments. I also saw Clarence Adoo a paralysed trumpet player from the British Para-orchestra. These different elements: the professional and participatory, are placed side by side and on the same stages to the same audiences. This is not dissimilar to Diverse City’s projects, The Extraordinary Bodies ‘Weighting’ tour, for example. As Ian Ritchie (Artistic Director of ‘Festival de música Setúbal’) said yesterday
“You have to build a community from the ground up but you also have to let the stars shine down and come down to meet it”
Often as a young artist I can feel like I'm in a little bubble, the integrated theatre community in the UK is relatively small, you quickly meet a lot of the same people at different events and whenever I step out side of this bubble to go to an open dance workshop or to attend a national conference I realise that not everyone is working in an inclusive way. It makes me feel very sad and very angry. Mainly for selfish reasons - like I cant invite my close friend along to all the events I go to for no bigger reason than that he is a wheelchair user and the studio is up a flight of stairs. Or when we do go together we get separated and cant sit next to each other or we have to sit away from other people. I feel like I am being excluded from spending time with my own friend - Ive stopped going to events in the UK that are inaccessible now, I just cant deal with the very obvious segregation. Particularly in the arts, The very thing that is supposed to bring us all together.
Here in Portugal it feels very good to see for myself that other people are working in an inclusive way. There are temporary ramps in the venues, somebody has thought about wheelchair access. There are disabled people on the stage, they are visible in the audience.
Being here is like seeing into a mirror where I am able to reflect on my own experience as a youth leader for Diverse City. Being able to see the similarities and notice the difference has only made me more proud of the people that I work with and the things that we do together.
I used to hope for an equal world and I would often wish and dream that I could see that world in my lifetime.
Now I am realising that the only way to see the world that we want is to fully live it. To live in an inclusive and equal world and to live that ethos everyday. We have to be that change we want to see. This phrase of Mahatma Gandi’s gets thrown around quite a lot without meaning. but still they are the most truest words i have heard. By living this world everyday and not accepting anything less than absolute equality - then the world will know change. We have to live it for it to become something others can imagine for themselves.
TCFT is wonderful, its a concentrated and focussed time in the year when all of us come together to live out that world. We practise inclusion & equality everyday that we are together. We are getting better at it and we have a lot of fun whilst we are doing it. we are growing. we are learning about each other, from each other and allowing that knowledge to help us inform who we are. We evolve and we let ourselves evolve because we are living. TCFT is alive in all of us and those connections we make help us to change. It might be a new experience or encounter with disability, gender, ethnic origin, culture, sexual orientation but we can accept the learning and move on.
Sometimes it seems harder away from those communities that we rely on so much to reaffirm to us that it is right and the practise of this can melt away.
This year for The Complete Freedom of Truth we are invited to explore the word TRUTH. For me it is an invitation to drop into this very real space with each other where we can live out the essence of who we are regardless of the form it takes.
For me, the truth of the world is those that exist within it. In this world there are disabled people, non disabled people, black people, white people, gay people, straight people…the world is made up of difference. That is the truth. It is an undeniable fact.
TCFT is being hosted in the UK this summer. The UK has a beautifully diverse population. When I am in a space now in the UK and I am not surrounded by different people I get bored, I get restless, because I know its not truthful. It is some fake world where we are being told that the world is non-disabled and very very heterosexual. We must stop accepting these spaces as truth and start asking how we can make them real. Lets look around us and see who is there. TCFT is one of the truest spaces I have ever stepped into but how often are we allowed to see that world?
TCFT is a truthful space. TCFT is inclusive. Lets live that together, Today, this august and everyday.
Photographs: Robert Golden