Besen Placement / The Real and Imagined History of the Elephant Man

18 August 2017

Being apart of the Besen Directing Placement on Elephant Man has pushed me to see theatre from a different perspective. I became a wheelchair user a decade ago, after a long career as a jobbing actor.  I am reinventing myself as a disabled theatre maker and director and it is a wonderful thing to have access to Malthouse Theatre, its people, and its workings. It has also been wonderful to have a continuing conversation about what difference brings to the theatre, and the importance of that provocation, with Matthew Lutton.

I have one foot in the mainstream, able-bodied world of showbusiness, as someone who worked as a jobbing actor for all of their non-disabled life.

The other foot is firmly in the very siloed world of Disability Arts as a disabled theatre maker. 

This show has given disabled actors a mainstream theatre opportunity for the first time in Victoria. Even more importantly than that, conversations between able-bodied and disabled artists have begun. We are breathing the same air, which has changed the temperature in the rehearsal room and had consequences for the work. Simply being together has generated thinking about what difference actually means, and where it exists in people who are considered ‘normal’. It has also been a rare privilege to witness actors grapple with the subject matter in the service of telling a new story about Joseph Merrick – one which explores his experience.

I've been excited watching disabled actor Daniel Monks take on the role of Joseph Merrick, working in the company of some truly marvelous mainstream actors.

My belief is that disabled and able-bodied actors need to work together to tell stories through the lens of disability – I formed my production company, Raspberry Ripple Productions, to do just that – and it is wonderfully affirming to see Malthouse Theatre take up that provocation. It is also glorious to be back in a working theatre after a long absence!

Kate Hood