INTERVIEW: Brian Lobel talks Balls with DAO director, Trish Wheatley
Following his well-received performance of Ball and Other Funny Stories about Cancer, Brian Lobel took a break from seeing for himself the range of other performances previewing at decibel Showcase 2011 to talk to DAO’s director, Trish Wheatley, about what brought him to decibel and his take on disability arts.
Why are you here at decibel?
Because they accepted my application!
I’m at decibel because I read that it was a showcase of work about diversity and access in arts.
This specific work, Ball and Other Funny Stories about Cancer, has sat for a long time in interesting conversations with disability arts, medicine and arts, and me always trying to figure out my position between this world and that world, and this world and that world.
I don’t define myself as a disabled artist but I’ve always been in conversation with disabled artists who are thinking beyond disability and more thinking about the ways bodies move in space and the way other people look at bodies. So it’s been really fertile ground for me as a performer to be thinking about those conversations.
And I also very much think that the work I’m presenting is a piece which sits inside of a conversation about diversity. Because cancer work is really hard to programme. And it has its own thing around it. It always has its own challenges around it because it’s a very loaded term. Just that word can cause such a heaviness. So I’m interested in exploring that, teasing that out.
Because the word cancer sits more heavily and more specifically than say mental illness or multiple sclerosis or epilepsy. All these kind of things that people are thinking about in different ways. But the word cancer has this particular world still around it. And I’ve been trying to challenge that.
So that’s a very long way of saying, it’s exciting to be in a context like this where people are interested in engaging in that conversation. But why is this work difficult? Or alternative? Or why does it need a special conversation around it being programmed?
I was wondering what you thought about presenting work and programming issues which you touch on there. Have audiences ever been offended?
I think in part it’s to do with the power of the cancer card. People won’t be disrespectful because I had cancer, so that’s okay. And that’s kind of an exciting and messed-up dynamic that people with cancer seemingly get away with a lot of things that other people wouldn’t . Because there’s this pity associated with it. I haven’t had cancer for nine years. But I’ll still play it when I want to play it. And I think this show plays on that theme of like, “Will you get away with this? Or will you not?”
For myself as a performer, if a programmer is thinking that the space is wrong [for my show] and they’re not going to accept me, I don’t want to be there. It’s not my job to convince people that they’re going to have to like me.
And I know that sometimes it works for a space and sometimes it doesn’t. But for now it’s like, if that person believes that the show is good to bring to their people, and that their community will embrace it and get excited by it and be challenged by it and have all the appropriate information [such as] they don’t bring their 12-year-old child to it. It’s for adults. It’s meant for adults. And I’ll tell everyone it’s for adults. But that’s as much as I can do from my end.
So really the programming issue for me is kind of on their shoulders to deal with. And I’m trying to provide as much information as I can up front by being as up front as I can be.
And in fact, the biggest problem that I’ve had with programming is – and I’ve had to take it out of the show – but the show is originally built in with me smoking a cigarette. But everyone’s fine with everyone touching my genitals! But as soon as I smoke a cigarette, “Nope. There is no way. We are immovable about it.”
For the part of the show called ‘Appreciation’ [where Brian invites audience members to come up on stage and feel his remaining ball] I wondered if you had a fall-back plan if no one would get up on stage. What would you do?
I couldn’t tell you. It never happens.
I’ve done the show 80 times. 400 people have touched my genitals in the show. An average Saturday night, really!
But I do have a fall back. I am not interested in talking about it though because I think I can always get it [to happen]. So I do have a back-up plan but I’ve never needed to use it.
You’ve already touched on the way you position yourself in relation to disability arts. I just wondered if being here at decibel you’ve been able to expand on that conversation with other disabled artists and what’s come out of that at all.
I’ve had the opportunity to show to a few disabled artists here whose work I really admire. I’ve got the opportunity to actually show them my work which has been a first for me [which] I feel like I’ve been seeking out.
I have had a really nice exchange here. It’s important to connect about the work, about the social, about the politics, about all those things together. So I’ve had a chance to really spend more time with people. Which is always the rushed thing, right? Every time it’s we see the gig, maybe have a drink afterwards but then I have to get on a train and go back home somewhere. So it’s been a really nice opportunity which is a very exciting thing.