Coventry-based disability arts organisation Radical Body has announced the launch of an online platform designed to connect and support disabled and chronically ill artists and audiences.
Hosted on Facebook, The Radical Body Network will provide a virtual space for housebound and nearly housebound performing artists to meet, collaborate, share their work and offer each other feedback and support.
Set up by performance poet Katie Walters, Radical Body is supported by the Belgrade Theatre’s Springboard talent development programme, which offers three years of tailored support to new companies and emerging performing artists. Other current Springboard companies include Richard and Rishard, digital theatre duo Gertrude, migrant arts organisation Maokwo and Underground Lights Community Theatre, which works with people who have experienced homelessness and/or mental ill-health.
Other Radical Body projects have included Seasick, an interdisciplinary work combining poetry and music to tell a story about coming to terms with illness, which was performed at the Barbican last autumn; and Planet Alex, a work-in-progress solo play about an autistic teenager who finds an alien living in her back garden.
The Radical Body Network is the company’s first major step in building a supportive community for sick and disabled artists. Initially, the platform will be used primarily for discussion, with regular conversation prompts, weekly check-ins and a monthly community call. There’ll also be space for sharing creative opportunities, and a chance to get assistance with applications.
Further down the line, it will be used for hosting virtual masterclasses and open mic nights, with a view to eventually start producing work that integrates livestreamed and in-person performances from artists in the community.
Radical Body founder Katie Walters said:
“As an emerging artist, I found it incredibly difficult to access resources designed to support people starting out in their career. There are also a lot of things you’re expected to do, like getting out and consuming as much art as possible, going to open mic nights, meeting people and having the confidence to sell yourself to them.
“I’ve always struggled with those things because I’m autistic, and then about three years ago, I developed a debilitating chronic illness which made things I had already been finding difficult straight-up impossible.
“What’s been most frustrating is that I think that a lot of the non-disabled people I work with really want to accommodate my disabilities, but it’s easy to forget about people you don’t see, so if you’re not able to physically attend events, you tend to get left behind.
“My aim with the Radical Body Network is to build a community that helps disabled artists to overcome these challenges, listen to them and respond to their needs, and ultimately we want to produce their work. We are a very small team and we are not currently receiving any funding, but for the time being, we will be making every effort to provide tangible support, so if you’re a singer, dancer, actor, writer or anything in between, please don’t be afraid to get in touch and we will do our best to help.”
Belgrade Theatre Creative Producer Hannah Barker said:
“Working with Radical Body has been incredibly eye-opening for us at the Belgrade, and a great example of how the benefits of our Springboard scheme go both ways, helping us to grow as an organisation, as well as offering support to new companies.
“It feels particularly fitting to be launching this platform at a time when many of us have had to adjust to more isolated ways of living, and when experiences like Katie’s are likely to resonate more widely. I hope that when the lockdown is fully lifted, people will remember those for whom being stuck at home is not a temporary inconvenience, but a long-term daily reality.”
The Belgrade Theatre is a registered charity, which means that all of the money it earns or receives is not distributed as profit, but is kept and reinvested in its wide-ranging work. Lockdown restrictions have resulted in the loss of over 70% of its income, leaving the theatre relying on diminishing reserves and the generosity of supporters in order to continue with vital work such as supporting Radical Body through its Springboard programme.