Can Disability art leave the Disability community? Yes!
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Last night my film, “Friending with Brain Injury!” premiered in Portland at Disability Comedy Movie Night. We showed three other comedies; all were written by disabled artists, starred disabled artists, or both. The audience had folks with and without disabilities, and there was laughter all around at different times. We talked about how disability humor is probably best when it is made by disabled people, people on the inside.
After the event, someone asked, well, if it’s only disabled people who can make jokes about disability, then how will this work reach the rest of society?
I have been doing disability and mixed abilities performance on and off since 1996, and every audience has been mixed. In fact, I was non-disabled until 2010 and was a regular performer and consumer of mixed abilities art. Most people who have bought my films are not disabled. Last night we plugged Wobbly Dance’s Underneath. This company makes a point to perform in places where the audience is typically non-disabled in order to show the truth that disability art is art.
So it’s OK if disabled folks prefer that we are the ones with permission to crack the jokes about ourselves. How we reach the rest of society is through our collaborations with each other, with and without disabilities.
Our communities have a history of being talked about, talked down to, put in institutions, and represented as needing cures, fixes, and help. We would like to add our stories and ideas to the mix with our own voices, words, symbols, images, and perspectives.
I am genuinely thrilled when our audiences ask questions that make me stop and think. That gives me the chance to stop and think about whether I am meeting my goals.
I don’t intend to create or endorse a divide between the disability communities and “everyone else.” But the divide exists. It’s real, and I confess to getting reactive about it at times. But! We can–and do–use art to begin to build a bridge. When folks without disabilities have permission to laugh with us at our comedy, then we can enjoy the films and start to talk about what was in them. We can ask each other about what makes us uncomfortable and what kinds of things we want to know about one another. That can be so effective at building community and understanding. I have experienced it many times.
My goal with the documentary is to reach audiences with and without disabilities and with and without brain injury. Whether you relate to the stories from the inside, are curious about them, learn something new, get riled up, or just enjoyed the opportunity to watch, I will be so happy. And if you like what you see, share around to others. Then our audiences will grow for sure!