Introducing a brand new feature for this blog: guest posts. Regular readers here will know by now I have a number of subjects that grab my interests. One thing I’ve been speaking out on lately is diversity, especially for people with disabilities. I’ve done this with some reluctance – ever since my diagnosis with Asperger’s seven years ago, I’ve wanted to work to the principle of wanted to be treated like everyone else. Lately, however I’ve felt compelled to voice my concerns over some of the schemes meant to help; not because nobody needs help – of course some people do – but the simplistic approach taken. At best, they assume that anyone with any kind of disability needs a leg-up without attempting to understand what the barriers are in the first place; and at worst, they assume that anyone with any kind of a disability is a victim and only promote artists who give this message.
But I’ve come across one venture that is doing something right. Lava Elastic – who came to my attention through their association with Sweet Venues Brighton – is an event that calls itself “One of the UK’s first openly neurodiverse comedy/performance nights”, run by Sarah Saeed. What do she offer that other ventures don’t? She gets it. She shows an understanding of the barriers faced and how they can be overcome that I find sorely missing from other initiatives. So I am delighted to have as a my guest poster Sarah Saeed, founder of Lava Elastic, for her take on the issue:
I have to admit to having been incredibly cross very often (understatement) about the lack of respect given to gifted, inventive, often highly trained, performers and very, very smart people by promoters and similar… just because those people are different, or don’t do things quite like everyone else. It’s one of the main reasons – subconsciously, in retrospect – I started putting my own nights on, sporadically (when I lived in Leeds before moving to Brighton) To give platforms to unusual acts that didn’t get as many bookings as more ‘run-of-the-mill’ less creative (but much better at networking) individuals…it is a side of the performance world that has always driven me bonkers!
I come from a performance background myself, there’s not been a stage on my life I’ve not spent lots of my time onstage (and in rehearsal rooms). I did my first Edinburgh Fringe at 9 years old (I always had terrible stage fright but somehow often got over it enough to get onstage) and have been involved in performance-orientated creativity pretty much ever since. I’ve sung in bands, acted, been a comedy cabaret performer, so I have absolute respect for what creatives/performers/musicians/comics need to do their thing, what infuriates me is when we/they get taken for granted. I’ve been in rooms where people talk through people’s acts, someone might heckle (they’re the devil! … I’m a non-believer but you get what I mean). Perhaps an audience might get really drunk during support acts and forgets about the main act, and a whole host of other ridiculous scenarios…as well as being on the receiving end when onstage and having to fight to be heard over a lairy crowd (fortunately not that often…but boy did it stink and feel lousy when it did happen!) When I was younger I tried to fight against the tide constantly to prove myself on ‘neurotypical’ terms as much as possible, not knowing that’s what I was doing and it was a losing battle. However a few things happened in the last few years that have made me think so differently about the variables of performance environments and the people in them (both on and off the stage).
I got an Aspergers diagnosis at the age of 38 (also several members of my family also got them around the same time, very much different ages and male and female). Learning more and more about my own diagnosis and noticing so much about friends and other creatives who were, not just on the spectrum, but neurodiverse in other ways, a few things I’ve suspected a lot of my adult life became really obvious. Gig/performance environments are only pleasant for half the room (in any given room) but conditions aren’t ideal for plenty of people … and that’s if it’s a welcoming enough environment for some people to even feel safe approaching in the first place! Personally I think that kind of sucks!
So my challenge for my event is this, I want to transport my audience to a space where they can forget all the crap in their world, and be somewhere wonderful, and I want my performers to a) also feel that and b) feel so happily free on the stage that they can absolutely be their best self (bearing in mind anxiety is a massive thing for many of us, but in the right conditions we’re fantastic at what we do), so that’s what I am aiming towards with my night Lava Elastic. I really want neurodivergent performers who step onto the stage at my night to feel like themselves, not judged, not hassled … to enjoy themselves! I know I also only learnt what that truly felt like onstage as a performer post diagnosis interestingly enough (for a ton of reasons … including being onstage as a Stealth Aspie in a room of like-minded people) and it makes a massive difference to your performance confidence and your development … don’t we all deserve to access that?
I also am trying to increase the profile of my night, not for my own benefit fully but when you put amazing people on a stage you want them to actually be seen (i.e. plain old ‘bums on seats!’) and get further opportunities don’t you? Otherwise we all just may as well perform at home in our living rooms, and no-one can grow through that, unless that’s a deliberate choice of course in which case, brilliant! But we all deserve to have the choices! The knowledge we have now about being neurodiverse, in my opinion, gives our generation (and from now on) of promoters/creatives/producer an opportunity to open doors for each other in a way previous generations couldn’t…so I’m just trying to make a tiny little start with Lava Elastic.
Lava Elastic is on monthly at Sweet Venues, Brighton, Werks Central. The next Lava Elastic is on 17th November. at 8 p.m.