Crossroad Arts Inc collaboratively develops opportunities for people who experience a disability and those in aged care, to access and participate in the arts, and on Saturday night I got to see one of their shows for the first time at one of my favourite venues, Dirty Martinis. A show, I must point out, that was sold out before opening!
The performers in this production treated their audience to a show that was very much like a cabaret. Divided into two acts, the production featured a handful of solo and collaborative performances that were strung together with a mix of crowd participation activities hosted by their charming MC’s, the cheeky Georgia Knoll and the bubbly Alison Richardson and translated by the sign language interpreter Arna, who I have to say I am in complete awe of. I’ve been meaning to learn sign language for years but am still at the spell everything out with the sign alphabet stage, and watching her hands fly about so effortlessly has inspired me to delve back into all the books I bought on the subject a few years ago.
I had a wonderful time and my expectations were not only met but superseded by the talent these incredible individuals had to offer and I learned more about what it was like to have a disability in one evening than I have in years due to being shown rather than told. The acts were incredibly varied so it never felt like too much of any one thing, and the affect that the performances had on me ranged from moving, to shocking, to hilarious to downright inspiring. And to make it even more worth the while, they used the evening’s production as a platform for change, and I’m thrilled that they’re spear-heading a campaign to get restaurants in Mackay to print up at least one copy of their menus in braille to make venturing out that little bit easier for people the people who can’t communicate with the ease that so many of us take for granted.
The featured group of the evening was the Sydney-based performing arts band Ruckus who have made a real name for themselves over the years as 5 piece performance group who all have Down’s Syndrome, but there were a few other groups as well, I very much enjoyed Brendan Borellini’s piece with Matt Tandy, Dear Olga, mostly because it brought to my attention that the way he writes is not that different to the way that I (and I’m sure most of us think) and his 3D art displays were so fabulous that I sort of blew my raffle-ticket budget trying to win one. In addition to that, there was a 4 person act called ‘Way up North’ which was incredibly detailed and moving performance that commanded the unbroken focus of the hushed crowd and was accompanied by rolling footage of the region for a personal touch.
As for the solo acts, local artist Joel Bow entertained us with his rendition of Defying Gravity. and 16 year-old artist Jade Fiyen sang some beautiful songs while accompanying herself on her ukulele, including You Are The Only One and Boys Will Be Boys. Jade has one of those lilting, Indie voices that lulls people into a trance-like state, so she had the audience in the palm of her hand the whole time. Georgia Rose Cranko is a performer from Sydney who has Cerebral Palsy, and she filmed a riveting piece of her getting undressed and dressed again- showing that she has everyday struggles but that in the end we’re all people. Georgia Rose’s personal platform is NO PITY.
The star of the evening for me, however, was Miss Georgia Knoll who might just be one of the sassiest performers that I’ve ever seen on a Mackay stage. I don’t know how much of her emcee act was an actually an act and how much was improv, but she was cheeky and beguiling and had as much stage presence as anyone I’ve ever seen locally to date. Georgia interacted with the crowd the most, and I got a kick out of the karaoke game that she hosted at half-time, which started with her performing the opening to a song, and then like with freeze-tag, paused it- giving the eager members of the audience the chance to finish it and win a prize. This little adventure (followed by a lolly drop) was so much fun, not just for those that participated but for those of us that sat back and watched as the ones with special needs in the crowd were treated to a truly fantastic night out that had been created with them in mind as a priority, not as an afterthought.
That being said however, the night was truly entertaining and accessible to all, and I hope that the next show sells out twice as fast as this one did because the performers have worked as hard as any other local performer has and what the stories that they have to tell need to be seen, heard and understood. Follow Crossroad Arts on facebook to hear about their next performance: The Unlikely Tour, set to be staged during The Mackay Festival Of Arts.
A standing Ovation for the team at Crossroad Arts behind the scenes, as sponsors and onstage! Until next time 🙂