20 August, 2020
There’s no one way to experience the arts. This adage has become especially true in current times –where COVID-19 restrictions prevent many of us from leaving our homes, affecting audience and artists alike. It can feel difficult to be motivated when many of our usual support outlets are unavailable to us.
But companies like Rawcus, and others, are responding to these restrictions by pursuing new possibilities for performance, connection and artistic development. The critically acclaimed, long-term ensemble of artists with and without disability has now been creating contemporary performance work for 20 years.
“At the core of our practice is collaboration, connection and relationship,” says Artistic Director Kate Sulan. “This hasn't changed but we have been forced to adapt and creatively seek out new ways to find connection, meaning and creativity when we can’t be in a room together.”
Throughout lockdown, the Rawcus Ensemble has been meeting every Wednesday to check in, rehearse and dance together. “Our Ensemble has found this a really important practise for staying connected to each other and our bodies,” says Kate. “It has given us a sense of connection in moments when that has felt really difficult.”
These interactions and rehearsals have become the inspiration for new work Dance It Out, being presented online for the month of August. The work takes shape as a series of free 20-minute online dance sessions led by the Rawcus Ensemble.
“Dance it Out is for anyone. You don’t need to be a performer or dancer to enjoy this offering; you just need a computer or phone and an internet connection,” says Kate. “In our first session people came with their pets, their children and their housemates. You can wear PJs or sequins. It’s meant to be inclusive, celebratory and fun.”
At Arts Centre Melbourne, we’re also interested in how the restrictions of our brave new world may actually be making theatre more inclusive. Artists can reach new and bigger audiences online and importantly, audiences who have difficulty with the physical or emotional experiences of entering a theatre now have more ways to engage online than ever before.
“Our team has a dedicated focus on access and community inclusion, including programs designed to open our doors to diverse audiences,” says Wendy O’Neill, Arts Centre Melbourne’s Creative Producer for Access and Inclusion. “It’s easy to say ‘we provide arts experiences for everyone’ but access doesn’t just happen, we have to plan for it upfront. That’s why we’ve made a real commitment, as we pivot to presenting lots of our programs online, to put access front and centre.”
Arts Centre Melbourne presented just five in-venue captioned performances in 2019. This compares with more than 50 captioned performances (both open and closed captioning) available on the Together With You platform in the first five months of presentation. We continue to provide audio description options for audiences who are blind or vision impaired as part of Together With You and several programs like Dance it Out are Auslan interpreted.
Arts Centre Melbourne offers these performances simply because of the value it affords the community. When we include our community, we are all enriched. Access is contemporary storytelling, innovation, new partnerships and audiences. Our community engages with the arts when they see it as something for them: an experience they are part of, can contribute to and feel represented by.
“Art can help us remember we are not alone,” says Kate. “It can help us navigate our way through difficult times. It can celebrate how complex and difficult and beautiful it is to be human.”
This can be seen in the early take-up for Dance it Out, which had 70 participants in its first session and 105 for the second – so many that Rawcus had to upgrade their Zoom account. The Ensemble is interested in expanding its projects in lockdown to create exquisite encounters between people in this moment and see how this might unfold as an act of generosity.
“We want to devise experiences that help us remember that although we are separated from each other there is the possibility of connection and community,” says Kate. “Seeing so many people laugh together, dance together and connect from their living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms was incredibly joyous and a moment of collective escape.”
This project was part-funded by the City of Port Phillip.