24 August 2012

Jérôme Bel's Disabled Theater

(c) Michael Bause

Jérôme Bel's Disabled Theater was another fantastic show for the jury. So far, the festival has been been a perfect festival for this project with all the work providing challenges but lots of thrills and mind-blowing moments. Bel's piece was right up there and left our entire group stunned and speechless.

The premise is simple. A group of developmentally disabled actors introduce themselves and do a little dance for us. That's about it. But the ethical minefield that Bel drags us into along with himself is intense. The actors are all rivetingly charming and the young jury didn't appear to be bored, though nothing really happened. It was simply a display of disability, some fairly severe in some cases.

This is not the forum for my opinions, so I'll stay quiet, but one of the chaperone's, who is the mom of one jury member (who comes on different nights) is a professional caregiver who spends every minute of her working day with developmentally disabled adults from ages 21 - 70, felt that it was absurd to applaud these very ordinary people for simply being themselves.

Members of the jury appreciated the piece but, in our personal Q&A afterward, fatigue and the common discomfort with disabled people rendered them quite silent, leaving me to wonder if applauding the choregraphically unremarkable efforts of actors - any actors -  forms a coherent strategy to promote understanding. I think I'm with the chaperone on this one. But the show was completely entertaining for every single second, even if, as some of the actors themselves pointed out, it has been accused (by some of the actors' families, no less) of being a freak show. In my opinion, it's better to have a freak show than no show at all and that would tend to be the norm.