30 Nov No Assumptions, Please!
Mixed-ability Automaniacs dance show
Hello everyone, welcome back to ‘No Assumptions Please!’. This month has been very busy for me as I was in another performance with Opening Doors, Automaniacs, taking part in the ZiguZajg Festival for Children and Young people. Directed by Douglas Comely and produced by Sandra Mifsud, we were a cast of 8. There were 4 members from Opening Doors (Justin and me from the Theatre group, and Maria and Peter from the Dance group) and four performers without a disability. I’m so proud to have taken part in my second mixed ability performance!
Before we started rehearsals we had a Zoom call, and then met for a focus group where it was only 6 of us as two of the cast were abroad. When we met, we were brainstorming ideas for what could go into Automaniacs. We had a dance workshop where we were experimenting and playing with different car parts. I think this session really helped to set the ball rolling to create an actual performance, Automaniacs.
How we turned Automaniacs into what it is today:
Before each rehearsal or run through we would have our very own dance classes led by Doug, where we worked on contact work in pairs, and a set warm up piece. Before Automaniacs I have done dance during my 6 years doing musical theatre at the School of Performing Arts (SOPA) as well as at MCAST as part of the Performing Arts course that I was taking, but I’m not a dancer. The great thing about these dance classes we did every day was that they really helped to make me more confident in both myself and my work, and to grow and develop as a dancer.
The way Doug worked was simply amazing. It was really not what I excepted how a dance performance would be like. Instead of choreographing a set piece, he got us to experiment with what we had and to just have fun in creating and seeing where it would take us. Most of the things we included in the show came from different parts of the dance classes that we did at the very start. Basically, it was whatever Douglas was inspired by, and then incorporated into the performance.
How being in a big role in a dance performance made me feel:
Like I said, my forte is acting, not dancing. So it came to me as a surprise when I was given one of the major parts in the performance. What happened was that we realised that all the pieces that we had were being started/led by a guy, so Douglas decided to put in a girl to start a scene off and he put me in, and I ended up doing a duet with Peter. And another amazing thing was that not only did I have a duet but that I even got a solo!
I just didn’t expect this, because in the past, when I was dancing I was never out there, out in the open. I was always in the middle or being the person that follows the others. Looking back now I can see that I was always somewhat different from the others, with my hypermobility in my joints, being uncoordinated, and always struggling to keep up with the others. Those were the only times that I really felt that I have Down’s Syndrome. I was just used to being part of an ensemble, part of the back-up dancers. Not like anyone really wanted me to be one of their main dancers anyway and now look at me! All I needed was Automaniacs to be really out there! To really see myself fully as someone I never saw myself as, and I have never felt so free, liberated.
Doing a trial performance:
After production week and rehearsals finished instead of waiting for opening night to take the performance onto the stage we decided to have a test performance with a few children who were friends of the producer and the artistic director of Opening Doors, so we could see how the audience would take it and how it would look like instead of taking the risk on opening night.
The best part for me was when we were performing with the stage lights. It felt like home. Especially feeling the hot lights on my face and hands and that energy that I always get once the lights come on and all of us smiling and nudging each other before we go on for each scene.
Why I love performing:
The reason why I love performing is the ability to be transported into another world and to experience new things and feelings. And when the lights go off and you are instantly taken away to a land of magic, of the unexpected, and that’s why I love it so much.
This was my first dance performance and everything about it was purely amazing and just magical. From hanging out in the dressing room, costumes, psyching each other for the performance, being called to wait outside the door, stepping onto the stage with the darkness around, lights come on as the show starts, the hot lights glaring into your face. The applause and the curtain calls with everyone holding onto each other.
This is why I just love being on stage because it always energises me and makes me so alive. And that feeling of electricity rushing up my body, filling me up and the only thing I’m capable of doing is smiling and hugging my cast mates after the show is over.
Cast bonding and backstage:
What I really loved about this cast was that there was a huge feeling of family. Backstage was always so much fun and where I have really fond memories of. Every time when we were either in the performing space or in the dressing room getting ready for one of our performances, we would be dancing to songs before we were called to the theatre to get ready. We were taking behind the scenes videos and posting them on our Facebook page and Messenger cast group chat so that each one of us could have them and can now look back on them.
Another great thing about being in such a cast was that we would actually spend time together so sometimes we would go out for drinks in Valletta as a group after a rehearsal and everyone would make sure that I was going home with one of the cast members which was always fun because we would be singing to songs or having car conversations.
What we achieved:
We have been through a lot together. Covid-19 and quarantine related challenges were obstacles during the rehearsals and also during the production run. Whilst we ended up performing 3 of the 5 performances with a cast of 7, we had a very a successful performance each time. While it was only the 7 of us, we also managed to adapt the performance to be a sensory-friendly performance by taking down things a notch, like with no flashing lights and loud noises.
I’m now also the proud owner of a Ziguzajg t-shirt which the festival gave us. For me it meant many things. The main one was that I was finally taking part in something hugely popular in the performing arts scene in Malta, and mainstream. It meant that I have a voice, and was being like most of my friends from SOPA, and was being seen and recognised on a larger scale. The second reason was the fact that Automaniacs was Ziguzajg’s very first performance being performed by a mixed ability cast. And that’s why it means everything to me.
I think that the very best part of it all was to hear the children laughing away during the performances. Afterwards they were full on interacting with us. One of the little girls came up to me and told me that she wanted to be like me! We should do more mixed-ability performances targeting children so they can grow up and be impacted by what they see on the stage, which will change the way how they see the world and others around them.
We shouldn’t stop here at just Automaniacs and Is-Sigra tat-Tin, but continue with more mixed-ability performances because they ARE possible and can be successful. And everyone, from the performers, directors and audience, can learn a lot from each other.
Photos by Elisa von Brockdorff
For more information on ŻiguŻajg International Arts Festival for Children & Young People you can visit: https://www.ziguzajg.org/