Arts and Culture

Review: UnSeen

Posted on: Fri 10 Dec 2021

By Kelly Vincent and Alirio Zavarce and The True Ability Ensemble | Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre| 1-2 December, 2021

Festival City’s, Emma Wotzke reviews The True Ability Ensemble’s debut performance of UnSeen.

Too often the disability community have become lost in labels imposed by society. In a powerful world premiere, The True Ability Ensemble, open a curtain on a heartfelt reality, emerging onstage to share a confounding detour from the dominant, unseen and often misrepresenting narratives of people with disability.

UnSeen, is the innovative debut production of newly formed theatre enterprise, True Ability brought to life through the dual leadership of award-wining director of AJZ Productions and writer, Alirio Zavarce, and former Member of the Legislative Council for the Dignity Party, Kelly Vincent. The organisation, emerged in 2020 as a product of Covid-19 lockdowns, weaving a powerful ethos, “to create professional theatre pieces, films and advocacy for artists with a lived experience of disability in Adelaide, Australia and be an exemplar of excellence in the arts and accessibility to people around the world”.

Beautifully raw, brave, captivating and honest, UnSeen opens doors on misconceptions and shines a light on the faces behind them. It does so with brilliant care and collaboration, storytelling, candid humour, and by casting a rich, poignant experience.

Inspired by recent events into the royal commission into disability rights, this timely production, arrived as a meaningful prelude to International Day of People with Disability. Through a journey into a somewhat confronting yet intimate performance space, UnSeen reveals the harrowing experiences of various people with disability who are often dismissed by, or even trapped in a society and system that has failed to see them.

The audience are at once struck by overhead projections; emotive words that embody new meaning, right there in context: “Loneliness. Reaching. Connection. Lost. Searching. Meaning. Barriers. Bodies…,” to name a few. What is the gravity of loneliness if you have never felt truly seen? What is connection in a world that leaves you marginalised? Is there meaning amongst the weight of disconnect?

The sparse set design; a blank canvas and powerful elevator, gives way to the persevering spirits of nine other, talented performers and co-creators, linked by a commonality: they are all there to share their side of the story. They are all striving to be seen; to be seen as people, heard for their perspective, rather than through the confined lens of a stereotype.

Intersecting narratives are sewn together with the balance of clever, comedic interludes, beautifully composed song, expressive choreography, collaborative performance and monologue. There is indeed laughter and tears in the audience as shifting perspectives take hold.

A blend between real time stage performance and projected sections of video interview creates a greater sense of the real. It is during these segments that performer, Rachel High said “what make them visible is themselves.” Words land with both subtilty and velocity. The raw delivery is impacting.

Performer, and trained actor, Kym Mackenzie, projects a powerful segment – highlighting the perpetuating ‘noise’ that increasingly dominates our fast-paced world. He expresses a deep need for things to slow down, to have space to speak and to think.

Wren Dow moves gracefully across the stage with her mobility device. She shares the illusion that often comes with ‘appearing fine,’ the heartache of being noticed more for scars than healing and how a mobility aid actually means empowerment not complication.

Jamilia Main, one of the show’s choreographers, delivers a humorous speech, highlighting how actors not affected with disability are cast in roles of people with disability. Poet, Ad’m Martin, extends his sharp and unapologetic sense of humour to express that he is absolutely not invisible nor inviting suggestions. Dion Allen hosts a game show that takes a comedic look at how people with disability are dismissed, their capacity to speak for themselves and their needs often become undermined. The performance also includes other brilliant pieces by Lucy Lopez Rivera, Justine Van Eyssen and Jye Parry.

A strong sense of care and camaraderie echoes throughout the ensemble, both on stage and the glimpses off stage, with each cast member so willing to lend their hand to the next.

Considered direction and guidance from Zavarce and Vincent, is exemplified throughout as a gentle harmony between performers and ensemble pulsates a strong message of collaboration, and respect for collaboration.

A kaleidoscope of spliced perspective unravels, highlighting that although no one story is the same, the linking of community is a vital move forward in amplifying both individual and collective voices both on stage and beyond the expanse of performance.

In a previous interview with Radio Adelaide, Zavarce said, “one of the most important points is that our city is only as good as how we treat our most vulnerable citizens”.

As the production echoes this powerful sentiment, it asks the audience to reconsider notions of accessibility and equality under the light of a brave new attitude: what is freedom really? What is the power of decision making? What about opportunity and independence? Does equal mean equally the same or should it mean equally valued for differences?

This innovative debut is indeed emotive, candid and engaging but it is also deeply informative, and exemplifies the power of art as a vital contributor of advocacy within the unseen communities of our society. It is a work that opens doors on real perspectives, and a need for change, and shows that now is the time to do that.

Both the cast and company demonstrate great progressive magnitude and a promising look in to theatre and film experiences for artists with lived-experience of disability.

I for one, am excited to see what lies around the corner and the eyes that will open because of this.

Audio pending.

Produced by Emma Wotzke

Image by Reagan Krista, supplied by Alirio Zavarce

Festival City

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