December 10, 2021


by Kelly Vincent & Alirio Zavarce
and the True Ability Ensemble.
Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
December 1.

Seeing and Believing

“There are a lot of things that are really hard about being disabled,” writer and advocate Kelly Vincent said in a recent interview in CityMag. “But most of them are not because [of the disability]. It’s because of the barriers that society puts up for disabled people – from barriers to socialising and attending events and parties, to finding employment, to finding a sense of self and community, to getting the right support.”

UnSeen, a joint venture between Vincent and director Alirio Zavarce , introduces a new performance company, The True Ability Ensemble, nine remarkable people individually and collectively telling their stories of difficulty and isolation – as well as accomplishment and triumph – in an often obstructive and unaccommodating world.

In its first performance in the Space Theatre, UnSeen makes the invisible more knowable and, as the performers speak, with pride and dignity as well in sorrow and in anger, the audience begins to realise that very often WE are the problem. It is our mindset that needs fixing.

Their words are compelling. Often funny, but also challenging in their candour and memorable in their insight. Kelly Vincent sets the theme in the opening words – “They don’t see your hard work . They don’t see how hard it is to put a smile on your face. Sometimes you feel UnSeen. “

Wren Dow, a contemporary and hip hop dancer, who self-describes as neurodivergent tells us – “I have lived with a body more scar tissue than skin… Yoga and essential oils won’t cure my genetic disorder, won’t dissolve the knife that’s been tearing my spine.” Later Wren says, in a phrase that describes the inner self in many of us : “I look fine/ but fine is an awful word, it never tells the truth .”

“Do you like yourself ? asks Justine van Eyssen, holding up a mirror. “Are you the person who would like to be ? “ “I am not my wheelchair” says Ad’m with a smile but a warning look. “I am not my glasses/ I am not my leg bag/ I am not my nail colour “ He continues –“ I am not taking suggestions/ I am not invisible/ I am Ad’m.” Later in a skit, hosted by Dion Allen as the quizmaster, Ad’m appears on Wheel of MisFortune – where, in a telling satire, all his answers are ignored and the “Support Worker” does all the talking.

Kym McKenzie, familiar from No Strings Attached’s acclaimed Sons and Mothers (also directed by Zavarce) tells us that sometimes the world moves too fast. “I wish you would slow down and let me speak…let me think. Please let me catch up…I need thinking space. We need feeling space.” Jye Parry performs in a splendid mask and cape .” I am more than my limitations”, he says, “limitations that you perceive.” He likes to go to Cosplay events like Supernova and ComicCon – “because everyone wears masks, not just me. “

Rachel High, a regular with Restless Dance and Tutti Ensemble, interviews Kelly Vincent for RealTalk, Lucy Lopez Rivera sings ( accompanied by the excellent composer and musician, Tahlia Weaver) and, in a send-up of an Oscar acceptance speech, Jamila Main delivers a lively serve at the notion that any actor can perform as a disabled character.

Director Alirio Zavarce (in tandem with producer Juliette Zavarce) has again brought his unique warmth and flair to this project. Rachel Thompson’s simple set and distinctive costumes (sympathetically lit by Kobe Donaldson) and the music by Tahlia Weaver and Tyson Olson all serve the production without overwhelming it. Zavarce creates a space for the performers to be themselves- funny, bold, thoughtful and most of all, direct in their connection with the audience. He introduces the event in a way that is both welcoming and informal and then remains just outside the acting area, providing support but never intruding. It adds a valuable dimension of gentle expectation to the experience that steadies performers and audience alike. His rapport with Kelly Vincent is key to the success of this production, as are his video interviews which are interspersed throughout.

UnSeen is an ambitious work which pulls no punches. Vincent says at one point –“I am not your inspiration porn. “ But it is also genuinely triumphant in feeling and in spirit. In making themselves so generously visible these nine diverse, creative people have not only opened our eyes they are also making us take a very hard look at ourselves.

Murray Bramwell

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