Ash McAskill is an ally and academic in the disability arts and theatre community, and a slow theatre practitioner. Ash has worked with disabled artists across Canada to mobilize against the current ableism that exists in the performing arts. Her dissertation entitled, “The Atypique Approach: Disability Aesthetics and Theatre-Making in Montréal, Québec and Vancouver, British Columbia” explored how neurodiverse artists are changing understandings of disability and theatre practises in Canada. Currently Ash is living between Guelph, Ontario and Montréal, Québec for a 2-year postdoc funded by the Fonds de Recherche du Québec at the University of Guelph’s ReVision: The Centre for Art and Social Justice. Her project, “Slow Journeys,” explores slowness as a method to challenge ableism and ageism caused by turbo-capitalism. The central question to her project if speed is the problem, then in what ways is the modulation of this speed or acts of “slowness” a possible solution. Slow Journeys examines whether slowness can be generative for creating a meaningful rhythm in which many human communities can feel welcome.
The workshop we just did was called deep listening and slow theatre and it was co-facilitated by me and Kathy Kennedy who is a deep listening practitioner who lives in Montreal and is also a vocal teacher. The biggest thing we wanted to explore today is how do different people with different bodies experience the world. What we wanted to do and what I think we did was have each participant re-experience and re-imagine how to sense the world, whether that would be through breathing, slow movement, humming and how does that create different relationships between people.
So, Kathy and I met in September, when we got together we decided that one of the biggest things we wanted to create is a calm and meditative environment. This came out of conversations with how busy we were ourselves. We thought if we created a workshop where people could feel relaxed and really try to breathe differently, then that would be a big achievement in itself. By the end of the workshop, one of the things a lot of the participants experienced was the sense of relaxation. So even people yawning in the workshop was actually great; people giggling together because of the tingling sensation of the humming. So, these were the thinks kinds of things that were playful but also relaxing. So that in itself made us happy as facilitators. We each had a different goals, but I think we were trying to hopefully create an environment that people could feel relaxed.
One of the things that's really important is to create relaxed spaces where bodies can fully be themselves. So, one of the things that this workshop really was trying to promote was not necessarily moving at a specific standard pace, which, when you do that, a lot of bodies cannot also move at the same pace. There is different people that move differently and with that, often don't feel welcome in some spaces. For example ,my practice of slow theatre, one of the things we want to explore, is different ways of mobilizing in spaces, so today we didn't necessarily even—for example, with breathing—say: you have to breathe this way. So, by encouraging people to find their own breath and their own meaningful pace of breathing, that in itself is a step in understanding inclusive spaces. For example, we did not have a person who was deaf in this space. So, part of me wonders in what ways would this workshop be accessible to someone that was deaf or hard of hearing. Something that I started thinking about is how do different bodies listen differently and how would that translate to a workshop like this. So, for example, with humming, something that Cathy talked about, how the different ways that we use our breath and create sound is vibration. That is something with Vibe we've been exploring: how do different vibrational frequencies create different understandings of sound and listening, even. How would someone from the deaf community - how would this workshop work for them? Maybe they would not find it as meaningful as, for example, Mohamed. Kathy has much more experience, for me, it was really great to do a workshop that has a lot of experience doing art workshops. So, for her, the practice of deep listening there are definitely some techniques and exercises that I will incorporate in my practice of slow theatre.
One of the first workshops, the only other workshop I have done, in Toronto, with the FOOT Festival, the festival of original theatre in Toronto in February 2018. So, one of the things I think a good beginning is to ask people, why is it important to slow down? Why do we need slowness? Or maybe, why do we not? Because I think it's important not to assume... I'm a big fan of slowness, but for some others slowness is not a pace that they find and they can identify with, or that's going to be something important in their lives. But I think one of the conversations starting as a group starting is to discuss, what does it mean to be a human being in today's fast paced capitalistic society and just to find those connections and those feelings of people feeling pressure or not fitting in. That can be a first step and then as a group talking about that breath. I know I keep talking about that, but that breath is really important. Because even in a classroom today we don't really talk about how to breathe. For example, someone like me, I've had cardiac issues because I carry so much tension in my chest. And so, by breathing deeper and really providing a space for students, especially as a teacher, asking your students to engage in breathing exercises and to adopt them in ways students can connect to.
So those are two different beginnings of how to begin to understand slow theatre.
Slow theatre is not necessarily about spectacle, it's about re-imagining the senses in the world.
The first thing to think about is how you are inviting people. Even for us, at Vibe, there have been emails, we haven’t always been necessarily been consistent with French and English translation, because we were moving so quickly because we were so excited about the event. Even just trying to be consistent with ASQ/ASL videos is very important. Just thinking about how you are inviting people in those spaces in that first initial call. I know I haven't always been consistent, it's hard, it's not always been an easy thing, because there is funding involved sometimes.
There is this amazing scholar named Mia Mingus who has the notion of 'How can the disability community or human beings at large come into spaces and know for sure that their access needs are met?" Because often a lot of people feel they need to ask for accommodations they feel like an inconvenience. Because accessibility is often an after-thought. The question would be for those that want to include more diverse communities whether that be the disability community or other cultural groups or just other people that don’t necessarily identify with specific communities - how are we making invitations for those people and how can we make initiations where they know their needs are met. I don't necessarily have the answer to that because I think it's really hard. I think that any space is going to be fully accessible, but if you show that you are interested in doing that, it means a lot to those groups and, to add, allies like me. Just focusing a lot on the initial invitation, and not being scared to ask question. Like the blind spot, looking at the way we use words, even little things like when people use the line "that's crazy" or making things like, "are you deaf?" Things like this. Looking at language is very important.
Just the same way that we look at racism and racist language - the same should be applied to the way we talk every day and unfortunately phrases we get so comfortable with we don’t recognize as ableist. So, there are little things like that we can pay attention to and invite different way of saying things that are kinder.
Often, when community—when I say community I also mean allies and people that are part of the disability community— they post really great things online. Being part of disability groups, for example there is one teaching disability studies, often they will post great tools they can use so you can re-think how you can say things. It's not about being politically correct. It's about re-thinking the way you use your words has an impact and shapes the way people view communities. And when you do say certain words or expressions that put disability in a different context. Different ways of saying things can make a difference. Certain things have been normalized. Even just understanding what is audism and what is ableism. Ableism is discrimination of people from the disability community. And then audism being discrimination against people that are part of the deaf and hard of hearing communities. That's really important. It's also important to know it's communities; with that comes different needs, different understandings of things.
Sometimes those communities, there are times, they won't always have the same perspective. So, it's really important to not homogenize those communities but to see the diversity.
Where people no longer have to feel that they have to share their needs in the sense that spaces are built with many communities in mind, versus being something that is put in afterwards, where LSQ/ASL and different sign languages are always incorporated in any classroom and that many people know how to sign LSQ and ASL.
I would love to be able to have a complex conversation in LSQ, it's one of my big goals, but things like this, you know, can be, where people can really enter spaces and have that slow long exhale because they know that their needs are met and they can assume so.
One thing that Concordia did, so back this past year, there was a non-competitive design kind of thing, that was called Enable Montreal. It brought together citizens of Montreal from different disability communities, different students from engineering, from the arts, from the sciences, also faculty. And it was great because there was a really great conversation talking about how can we create services and products that will improve physical accessibility in this city. With that conversation came great projects and understandings about disability culture that people had not been aware of and amazing knowledge how people can design those things with different partners from the Montreal area. The great thing was that it brought out a buzz that had not been there for a while at Concordia. What I would love, beyond thinking about more inclusive spaces for students with different learning styles and cognitive styles for students, really thinking about how can students across different disciples, science and the arts, how can we use those knowledges to work with the city because the city is really inaccessible still. How can we use and work with the students to create a better understanding of disability, so that those students that are starting out in jobs are thinking about accessibility in anything they do.
It's really about changing the way we critically approach our work and I think that beyond making the school physically accessible, it's also about making thinkers that are putting that forward in everything that they do.
I would love to thank The Vibe team for all their support. Darian Goldin Stahl, Samuel Thulin, Luciano Frizzera, Carly MacAskill, Annick Davidgnon, everyone and Andrea Tremblay for all the work that has been happening with Vibe. It's a big project. These workshops have been such a way to mobilize ideas and understandings. Everyone who has been coming to the workshops including our facilitators. It's been really cool to see that being mobilized and embraced and how that will add to conversations at Vibe.