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singing for survival

Hunger Games meets X Factor: Play highlights how people who are 'different' are treated in a post-Trump world

The piece is devised and performed by an ensemble of actors with intellectual disabilities, reflecting satirically on the rise of right-wing authoritarianism.

Wesley Fairbrother Singing for Survival photo by Vincent Lillis Actor Mark Smith, who features in Singing for Survival. Vincent Lillis Vincent Lillis

THERE IS A “marked absence” of the voices of people with disabilities from many conversations about them.

That’s according to Aisling Byrne, one of the people trying to change this situation.

Byrne founded Run of the Mill Theatre in Celbridge in Co Kildare in 2014. The theatre, which has produced several shows, provides opportunities for people with disabilities to engage with the theatre as makers, artists and participants.

Its latest production, Singing for Survival, will be its biggest yet.

“It is a highly political piece and our most ambitious show to date,” Byrne told TheJournal.ie.

The play is set in a dystopian reality where people with disabilities are relocated to work centres while they await transfer into an imagined new community.

The piece is devised and performed by an ensemble of actors with intellectual disabilities, reflecting satirically on the rise of right-wing authoritarianism and the politics of being ‘different’ in a rapidly changing world.

The Hunger Games meets The X Factor

Byrne, who is directing the show, said the piece could be compared to The Hunger Games meets The X Factor.

The premise is this: people living in the ‘Leader’s Centre For Everyone’s Own Good’ are promised a better future in ‘The Community’ – which they may be invited to join if they’re successful in a singing competition.

Byrne said the production was conceived by the ensemble following an exploration of eugenics and dystopian fiction in the wake of “seismic political shifts” such as Brexit and Donald Trump becoming US President.

Trump 

When on the campaign trail in 2015, Trump famously mocked a journalist who has disabilities. 

While speaking about Serge Kovaleski, the then-Republican presidential candidate flailed his arms and changed his voice. The situation was condemned but, as we know, Trump was still elected despite this and numerous other insults directed at many individuals and minorities. 

“In an era that is seeing a rise in right-wing ideological thinking, the ensemble were keen to reflect artistically on the space and place of people who are seen as ‘different’ and who’s contribution and ‘value’ to society is consistently called into question,” Byrne said.

Wesley and Shelly 1 Singing for Survival Vincent Lillis Actors Mark Smith and Michelle Brennan, who feature in Singing for Survival. Vincent Lillis Vincent Lillis

Byrne said Ireland’s historical treatment of people with disabilities – such as sending them ‘away’ to institutions rather than integrate them into their communities – was another inspiration.

Conversations in the lead-up to the Eighth Amendment referendum also had an impact, with Byrne noting how people with disabilities were used by both Yes and No campaigners to further their cause. 

People with disabilities are having their individuality erased and their identities reduced to soundbite video segments of ‘inspiration’ shared widely via social media.

“There is a marked absence of the voices of people with disabilities from these conversations and indeed from the conversations around the seismic political shifts both globally and here in Ireland,” Byrne said.

Singing for Survival is part of a movement that’s trying to change that. 

Singing for Survival is produced by Run of the Mill Theatre in collaboration with St John of God Community Services.

The production, which supported by the Arts Council of Ireland, will be performed at the Draíocht Theatre in Blanchardstown in Dublin on 29 and 30 January. More information can be read here

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