On September 7th the Rio Paralympic Games kick off with a grand opening ceremony. I was lucky enough to be a performer in the 2012 London Games ceremony, as were a huge number of disabled artists and performers. For the first time much of the British public saw what disabled creatives could achieve and they were blown away.
As the performers in the Rio ceremony are running through final rehearsals and fighting with growing nerves, in London there is a major festival of disability arts starting. The Unlimited festival at the Southbank draws disabled talent together for five days of theatre, music, art and performance that captures the wonder, excitement and creativity of that heady night in Stratford just over four years ago.
For many the words disabled and art don't readily go together, but boy are you missing a trick. The disability arts scene has existed for many decades, with it's roots in the disabled people's protest movement. It began as a creative way of giving a beautiful voice to so many disabled people's push for equality and rights. It remained underground for years, all the time allowing the key players to hone and perfect their creative output. Slowly this caterpillar turned into a stunning butterfly, and now anyone who experiences disability art is in for a thrill. The scene is now packed with top class talent that work in all disciplines. So what joys can you expect from Unlimited at the Southbank this festival?
To be honest the event is so jam packed with must see stuff that I can't list it all, with the festival itself stating its listings as a mixture of "theatre, dance, music, literature, comedy and visual arts that celebrates difference with a spirit of artistic adventure, honesty and humour". I will be there as often as work allows, and am even taking part in one the panel debates, Superhuman or Simply Human on Saturday the 10th. My picks would be dance in the form of Candoco's You and I Know on the 6th and Claire Cunningham's The Way You Look (At Me) Tonight, comedy from Jess Thom with Stand Up, Sit Down, Roll Over and Lost Voice Guy's Disability For Dunces, and performance from in the shape of Him, Grandad And The Machine and the première of Liz Carr's irreverent show Assisted Suicide: The Musical. Alongside these ticketed shows, there will be all manner of installations, shows and interactive events on everyday.
I have long believed that disability arts have reached such a high standard that they now rival any other scene or movement out there. The Unlimited Festival, delivered by Shape Arts and Artadmin and funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, Arts Council of Wales and Creative Scotland, will have something to delight everyone. It's one of those festivals held by the Southbank that should not be missed. Whether you are a serious culture vulture, or have a spare day off to fill, I cannot recommend a visit to Unlimited highly enough. Not only is it art at it's very best, but it proves that there is so much more to disabled people than sport. As I someone who was disabled since birth, who hated sport and desperately wanted to be a musician, I love Unlimited for that alone!
For more info and to book tickets visit Unlimited