Running from Thursday 15 to Sunday 25 September 2016 at Glasgow’s Tramway, Unlimited Festival is a showcase of exceptional new work from disabled artists, aiming to embed work by disabled artists within the cultural sector, and to reach new audiences, shifting perceptions of disabled people.
In 2014, the first Unlimited Festival was held at London’s Southbank Centre, yet this year’s festival occurs both north and south of the border, making the trip up to Glasgow a few weeks after it closes in London. Beyond presenting artists of international acclaim, the program includes emerging artists commissioned by Unlimited’s own fund, which this year includes work from Claire Cunningham, Liz Clark and Jack Dean. The resulting festival also responds to its location, offering out work that engages with discourses surrounding disability at local, national and international level. For the Scottish edition, there are world premieres of new work Ian Johnston and Gary Gardiner, 43 Percent, and of an international collaboration between Glasgow-based Marc Brew and Brazil-based Natalia Mallo and Gisele Calazans, MayBe.
The overall quality of the work at the festival is very high, and the works from the Scottish artists on display are no different. There is a broad range of work, which deal with experiences of disability more or less overtly than others. Claire Cunningham and Jess Curtis’s The Way You Look (at me) Tonight, for example, speaks primarily about the politics of access, about how access is about more than BSL interpretation, but is a consideration to be woven through the dramaturgy of a work. Meanwhile MayBe is a very moving mediation on the liquidity of relationships, about how love is something that fluctuates, erodes, vanishes, and then appears. 43 Percent is political yet inherently personal, as Gardiner and Johnston seek definitions of themselves beyond how they are perceived by the medical profession, what it is that makes a person as person, rather than a series of numbers or labels. Unlimited Festival engages with a range of subjects that meet the needs of a wide range of audiences, from those with a specific interest in disability art to further afield. The result is a festival that expands the perceived barriers of what the work of disabled artists can be about.
Unlimited at Tramway also boasts a commendable engagement program. Alongside the performances and exhibitions is What?, a program of free events and conversations focused around asking what Unlimited Festival is? These workshops conversations and networking events respond to the works presented at Tramway, and the material conditions which give rise to the festival as a whole. The results are being collated onto a blog run by Kim Simpson, a Glasgow-based producer, and a great resource for anyone with an interest in disability-arts, including contributions from many of the artists presenting work, and other Glasgow-folk such as BUZZCUT. The result is to extend the festival beyond the walls of Tramway, and upcoming events such as What’s next? seek to provide a catalyst for facilitating conversations after the event, ensuring that Unlimited has a sustained impact on a local level too.
In the months that follow it will be interesting to see how these conversations continue to grow, and shape the opportunities for artists who identify as disabled both within Glasgow and across Scotland as whole. At the very least, it is extremely heartening to see the care and attention with which these conversations have begun to take place.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.