NORMAL. WHAT IS NORMAL?
Normal. What is normal? This is one of the questions we’ve been asking repeatedly during our creative development at Metro Arts. We’ve placed it under a microscope and held it in our bodies, we’ve all related to and not related to certain elements of this. Normal. Can this construct also be a celebration?
I suppose at one point in time it was a useful term and distinction. But, it has become part of a shared language and social code that we’ve found, is something we want to shrug off more than hold close. Is it a word we want to use anymore, given its weight and baggage, its bias and exclusivity, its dependency on societal trends and outdated use in medical practices? Is it normal just because it’s dominant? Is it normal because it’s the majority? Is it abnormal because it’s not familiar, not understood or feared?
Explain Normal is a collaboration between artists from Aha Ensemble, Phluxus2 Dance Collective and myself. All have strong feelings, experiences and opinions to share on how we relate to “normalcy”. And they should too, as many of the artists involved in this work have experienced extreme exclusion from society for being different. In fact, by subsections of society (the arts sector being one of them). One of the performing artists involved in this work has described experiences of being turned away from multiple dance schools, because of her visible disability.
The development of Explain Normal is a culmination of two years creative collaboration (give or take). Explain Normal unpacks the concept of “normal” as both survival mechanism and death making, as myth, as someone else’s truth, as a potent provocation for perspectives on society and difference, and how we value “otherness”.
Explain Normal has been incredibly important to make for a number of reasons, one of those is that people with disability are too often under represented, misrepresented, invisible or too visible (not by choice). Assistant Director and Performing Artist, Ruby Donohoe says “there’s a fine line between visibility and exposure” when talking about her experience as an artist living with epilepsy. How do we make artistic work that speaks to these kinds of issues, how do we collaborate with artists and communities that require different communication and creative processes? How do we do so without exoticism or overexposure as Ruby suggests? How do we ensure that inclusive practices are not merely assimilation into able bodied methodologies?
This work has provided desperately sought after industry-level professional development opportunities and performance-making training for artists who identify with disability and impairment. It has also been an exciting collaborative exchange for both collectives of artists (Aha Ensemble & Phluxus2) with a unique opportunity for a diversification of choreographic methodologies and practices. This work values the input and creative practice of artists with disability as active collaborators and leading artists within the creative process – which in itself, is not the “norm” across many mainstream arts practices and projects. It is about centralising these voices and embracing these bodies on our stages.
It is as much about changing perspectives of what is normal, as it is, changing perspectives and outdated ideologies that people with disability are less than or other than. Some of the methodologies and devising techniques have been informed by my recent training and formal mentorship in inclusive theatre making with Kate Sulan (Artistic Director, Rawcus) and attending Unlimited Symposium (UK) a disability-led arts conference and festival.
What I think we’ve learned in this development, is that there’s a whole spectrum of “normal” and normal behaviour and it’s interesting to notice who and how what is normal is decided. This show is about celebrating the parts of normalcy that we find difficult to reconcile with as well as celebrating our own “normalcy”. In this show, we get to decide.
Interested in seeing Explain Normal? Book tickets to see it HERE.
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