Sex and disability in the spotlight

Theatre can relay the experiences of people who are often left out of bigger conversations

Disability has no rigid set of rules so it’s important that we ingest the stories of disabled people in as many different ways as we can. The written word has huge power, but theatre can lift these words and experiences from off the page (or phone screen) and bring them to life in a different way.

I had the huge privilege of debuting Why Won't You Have Sex With Me?, an exploration of sex and disability, in the Dublin Fringe Festival in 2017.

I felt that anything I’d read or seen before on these topics was created for the gaze of non-disabled people, rather than creating a dialogue that would benefit the disabled community. I wanted a two-fold effect with the show: I wanted to make non-disabled people laugh, while pushing them to change their attitudes towards disabled people, and I wanted disabled people to nod their heads in agreement (or shake them in vicious disagreement) while also making them laugh.

I can confirm that I got some laughs. Some.


Disabled people's personal lives are unfairly examined if they're not the ones in control of their narrative

I wanted to drive a healthy discussion on sex and disability without making my personal life the focus because, more often than not, disabled people’s personal lives are unfairly examined if they’re not the ones in control of their narrative. In creating a piece of theatre, disabled people can take control through their art and, with the March 7th deadline to apply for a spot on this year’s Fringe programme looming, the festival could be the perfect home for your finished piece.

“When it comes to Fringe, we always champion artists from outside the mainstream and we’re really committed to offering artworks that give people fresh perspectives and sort of giving new stories a platform. That’s something that audiences are really hungry for, for sure,” says Dublin Fringe Festival director Ruth McGowan.

“There are people who get rewarded by that, that they get to see work that takes them somewhere that they’ve never been or provoked them into thinking about something they haven’t considered before.”

In recent years, Fringe has debuted Mary Nugent's Don't Be Looking!!!, a play that uses humour to address the misconceptions of disability, and Talk Real Fine, Just Like a Lady, a signed interpretation of Teresa Deevy's play The King of Spain's Daughter by Amanda Coogan and Dublin Theatre of the Deaf, but theatre created by disabled people is certainly not restricted to the Fringe.

There is huge diversity contained within the disabled community and Equinox Theatre Company's The M House, which examines the effects that institutional care can have on its residents, and Mainstream by Rosaleen McDonagh, which explores the truth, lies and the mainstreaming of Travellers with disabilities, are shining examples of this diversity of which we need to see more.

Aisling Byrne, artistic director of Run of the Mill Theatre, a North Kildare organisation that supports people with intellectual disabilities accessing theatre as makers, artists, participants and audience members, says theatre can relay the experiences of people who are so often left out of bigger conversations.

“Theatre can exist as a social document; an alternative means of mapping our collective history and holding a proverbial ‘mirror up to nation’ and yet there is an absence of the voices of people with disabilities historically from our stages and the theatre canon,” she says. “The art form presents us with a powerful tool for redressing this and an empowering medium through which people with disabilities can share their lived experiences and have their voices heard and stories shared.”

If you’ve got an idea or a story that keeps returning to you, McGowan suggests that you arrange a meeting with the Fringe team to help push your idea forward and address any access requirements that you may need, emphasising that it’s the festival’s job to remove any barriers to access that exist.

“While the organisation is really inclusive and has equality in its DNA, we don’t get to rest on our laurels with that because actually being inclusive really takes work,” she says. “Those are things for us to solve and it’s the artist’s job to make the art that they want to make and for us to get everything out of their way so that they can do that.”

Platform Series - Louise Bruton
1) Sexual health
2) Day I started using a wheelchair
3) 'Wheelchair-friendly' rooms
4) Please don't ask me
5) 'Inspiration'
6) Asking for help
7) Things you learn in a wheelchair
8) Sex and disability in the spotlight
9) I spend much of my time waiting
10) People with disabilities need allies