New Zealand's first arts festival showcasing the abilities of more than 150 disabled artists will take place in Auckland in the aftermath of the Rugby World Cup from 28 to 30 October.
The InterACT Festival will include more than 30 performances, workshops and forums at the Corbans Estate Arts Center in Henderson (during the day) and Glen Eden Playhouse (night performances). It's the brainchild of Paula Crimmens, who is also the founder and director of Auckland disability arts theatre company Interacting.
"I wanted to present a festival specifically for disabled people so they could feel at home and able to enjoy a whole range of arts activities," she says. "I also want to open people's eyes to what's possible, and the contributions disabled people make to the fabric of their local communities."
She promises the festival will be "exhilarating, full of surprises, sometimes quirky and always, always entertaining''.
A former theatre director, Paula retrained as a drama therapist before moving to New Zealand from London in 1996 and began working at Rosehill Special School in Papakura.
After directing several shows for special schools, Paula realized there was an opportunity to help inspire people in other organizations to get involved in theatre. That's when Interacting was born.
A year later, in 2007, Paula attended Awakenings, an annual disability arts festival in Australia, with Interacting actor and trustee Treena Armstrong. It got Paula thinking about setting up a similar festival in New Zealand.
"I thought how great it would be to have a festival in New Zealand that celebrates the disabled community and their unique talents,'' she says.
''My favorite part in Awakenings was the open stage, which was held on a couple of evenings and gave people the opportunity to perform on stage in front of an appreciative audience. It reminded me of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where you can see such a range of theatre from the sublime to the ridiculous. I just loved it.''
A festival organizing committee of six have been meeting every week throughout the year. Paula says they have made a lot of connections and there has been a lot of support - from corporates to community organizations and individuals, volunteering their help and expertise.
"We also have professional choreographers, lighting designers and sound technicians - people who can make the shows as good as they can be - and we're very grateful for their support,'' Paula says.
As well as workshops in film, circus, drumming, belly dancing and drama, there are a number of forums on offer. For example, Arts Access Aotearoa is working with Auckland Creative Access Network (CAN) to present a forum on Sunday 30 October, featuring the activities of creative spaces using the Pecha Kucha format.
Paula is also directing two Interacting shows. The first is Journeys, starring Shannon, who has cerebral palsy and tells the story of her birth mother, who kept her pregnancy at the age of 16 a secret and decided to give up her daughter for adoption.
The second show is Ring a Ring a Rosie, the actors' interpretation of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
"There's a varied program with a strong visual component for Deaf and hearing-impaired people," Paula says. "The focus is on audience development, capacity building and networking via the workshops, forums and showcase performances." www.interacting.org.nz
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