My name is Danny Braverman.
I am umm, a theatre maker and a teacher although I see them as two sides of the same coin. I’m currently a lecturer in “Theatre and Performance” at Goldsmiths. I’m a director, writer, all those things.
So amongst those things I talk about disability theatre, which I have been involved in one way or another for thirty odd years. Youth theatre, young people’s participatory work and forms like forum theatre, but I also work umm now, although I didn’t used to but in my fifties I’ve started working as a performer, as a story teller.
I have a belief in, that there is a gap that gets filed by the imagination and by creativity. So as a teacher I want to present opportunities for anyone that I am teaching to learn, umm, which involves them taking control of their own learning. So you’re making invitations.
It was a colleague of mine who once, after we were evaluating a session and I remember her saying to me “Danny all we do is make invitations, we can’t accept them” and it’s the creativity of making an invitation, to a party if you like everyone wants to go to, but actually its up to the people who come to the party to make it. We create the circumstances.
I came to a workshop in 1985 at Goldsmiths and all I knew was that it was a thing called “Theatre of the Oppressed” and there was a man called Augusto Boal who was going to give a workshop, he was Brazilian, and he was going to give a workshop in London. It was the first workshop on forum theatre that happened in the U.K., umm and I suddenly became aware “oh my goodness! This is a whole other world of interactivity with audiences that’s really interesting”. And Spare Tyre, I think at around the same time, shifted from the cabaret work to the participatory work.
I was aware of Spare Tyre before it was a participatory company because I was involved myself in the scene which was kind of political, popular political theatre. So you’re aware they were part of the same world along with a lot of the cabaret groups that were coming from identity politics. So there was, so Spare Tyre were a feminist cabaret group that you saw and appreciated. Then when I worked at Theatre Hall Stratford East as head of education Claire Chapwell approached me, she said “let’s collaborate”. And so we did one project together, but it was based on her liking what we were doing with other projects in terms of outreach with young people. At sort of the crossover between what was kind of old fashioned theatre and education
There probably is a wider awareness now for social model as opposed to the medical models. The idea that disability is defined not by what’s wrong with someone, i.e. I, me, Danny, sitting here now I’m a diabetic, I don’t have a bowel, I have an ileostomy bag, which some people call a colostomy bag, and I have cancer. I’ve got all three. But I’m not a medical, you know, I’m not the sum of my conditions actually. I’m working full time, I’m teaching, I’m performing, I’m a parent, I’m a partner, I do stuff in the world.
Those personal experiences have help, they’ve been really important to be thinking about the social model. But more than that, when I think about art I think of a thing which I would, which I don’t call it I borrowed the term from umm some academics in disability studies who are called Swain and French, and they wrote about the affirmative model of disability and this really interests me. And this, the idea is that not just the social model, that we should, there are barriers that society should remove, but actually there’s something about the experience of disablement that creates interesting compelling art. Umm, so looking at Lizzie Emeh, she would not be the artist she is if she didn’t have a learning disability. You look at uhh my show wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t have had almost had a bowel that almost killed me. Because that’s the story on which it springs. Those are stories that, if they are told, are so infrequently told by the people it happens to. They’re not voiced and umm this is where umm disability is, I mean I hate the notion of a hierarchy of oppressions. And partly its because the nature of of discrimination against disabled people. Yes some of it is violent, some of it is nasty, but some of it is umm is to do with our notion of charity and our is kind of disempowering, killing with kindness, well intentioned people who umm think they’re being helpful or kind and polishing their halos by doing something for “the disabled” rather than allowing disabled people to have their own voices. And that’s what excites me at the moment about this, and the wonderful work that is being made by those alternative voices. And it’s wonderful to see actually the contemporary, the modern day Spare Tyre, Arti’s Spare Tyre as artistic director, umm, to be rarely pushing that forward. And I think rather wonderfully sometimes in a way that’s a bit uncomfortable.
Well what’s fascinating is to is is, we’re at the very beginning of a disability aesthetic. Which I think is really important because the other thing of course to remember about part of what institutional discrimination against disabled people has been segregation. Segregation in education. Segregation in where we live. Umm to a very large extent, how do we address that world through creativity, obviously?
Danny is a writer, performer, director and lecturer currently based at Goldsmiths University specialising in disability arts and participatory theatre. Danny collaborated with us on our 2003 show Other People’s Shoes which he wrote. His recent award-winning solo show ‘Wot? No Fish!!’ presents a true story of love, art, history and fish balls.
Danny spoke to us about medical model vs. social model, and a disability aesthetic in theatre.