On Monday night I had the pleasure of going to see the soon to be legendary production of Sweeney Todd with Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel. Thanks to my good friend K. L. Kettle I got a sneak peak of it on YouTube back in September, otherwise I would have never treated us to opening night tickets. Trust me if you get your hands on a pair of tickets take them as they are like gold dust… And then call me and see if I’m free that evening.
Although the performances were impeccable, sitting there watching the show I kept thinking about just how far we are from seeing disability onstage as commonplace. There were over 100 people trafficking that stage and I didn’t see a single person, actor, dancer, or musical ensemble, with a visible disability. Statistically this is impossible. There was a diverse crowd up there in terms of race, body type, gender and yet no disability.
I see this situation all the time of course, but it really got to me with the specific production because this telling of the Demon Barber of fleet street is revolutionary in so many other ways. The staging didn’t stick to the story’s nineteenth century period, which usually as a disabled performer you hear the excuse that disabled people weren’t allowed out of the house in history so they don’t really have a place in period pieces. And I don’t for a second believe there isn’t a disabled performer talented enough to be a member of the chorus.
Directors have to start incorporating performers with visible disabilities into large scale productions. If there are so many people on stage that it is statistically impossible for a population that size to not have at least one person with a physical disability, then there’s no excuse. Do we want art to be a reflection of life or an idealisation?
The production was utterly perfect and I’m not saying that we need to introduce quotas and formalities to these large scale productions. But it is my wish to see directors with bold enough imaginations to not be intimidated by having someone with a visible disability on stage. Perhaps the ability to tell a story, incorporating the full extent of the human experience is the ultimate test of an artist.
Because it's a Brave New World out there. Every Day.