This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit

Disability Arts Online

Kaite researches a Cultural Olympiad commission: LeanerStrongerFaster / 22 September 2011

book cover of 'face on'collection edited by Kaite O'Reilly

Face On: Disability Arts In Ireland and Beyond, edited by Kaite O'Reilly. An international publication exploring Disability and Deaf arts and culture in an Irish context.

Zoom in to this image and read text description

I get an email from Andrew Loretto, creative producer of Sheffield Theatres. It is short, focused, almost telegraphed, as is the nature of missives from scarily busy individuals.

How about if the title is presented as a continuous energy as follows: 'LeanerFasterStronger'¬†he asks enigmatically, except I know what he is referring to, and it’s a great suggestion.

Andrew will direct one of my commissions next year, a co-production between Chol Theatre in Huddersfield and Sheffield Crucible, and it is the title of the collaboration we are mulling over. The project is part of Extraordinary Moves, a major strand of the imove programme, which celebrates and challenges the relationship between people and their moving bodies through a series of innovative arts projects across Yorkshire.

‘imove explores how we feel in our moving bodies’ the website states ’whether that is in our daily lives going to work, to the shops, to school, achieving our personal best over 26 miles and 385 yards, or making slow painful progress from one side of the room to the other. We all move, maybe in different ways and at different speeds and for different reasons, but we all move all the time. Even when we are still, we are moving inside. Movement can mean picking up everything we own and ending up in another place, so imove also explores the movement from one part of the world to another.

Extraordinary Moves looks to challenge perceptions of disability through an exploration of human movement. My commission for a new performance is one of the activities Chol are spearheading for 2012.

I assume one of the reasons I was commissioned is because I identify as disabled and as a disability artist. I’m a veteran both of the UK Disability Rights Movement and its burgeoning culture since first working with Graeae Theatre Company in 1986. I’m one of the surfers of that first wave, once chased down the street by the police for taking direct action against inaccessible public transport (lying down in the street before the wheels of a Cardiff bus), now invited to be Patron of disability arts organisations, or to write and edit disability culture publications.

Disability politics, the experience of living with impairment, and what I call crip culture inform me daily. They are both foundation and subtext, running like rock strata under everything I do. LeanerStrongerFaster (if indeed we decide to call it so) will look at the underbelly of professional sport, informed by bioethics, sports science and the future of enhancement: Posthumanism, for want of a word.

I have already become widely read on the philosophical and ethical concerns of transhumanism, for want of a second word. It would be my specialised subject on Mastermind were I the competitive sort to enter such an arena. But I’m not, and that’s another reason for accepting a commission about highly competitive professional sport. I don’t understand it. What’s more, I dislike it. I only show interest in Wales vs Ireland international rugby matches as there no-one reallyminds who loses (as Ken, my former Caaaardiff neighbour used to tell me, the Welsh are the Irish who couldn’t swim). My favourite team sport was watching One Man and his Dog with my Father when he was alive, his own Welsh border collie racing in confused circles in the yard outside, obeying the whistled instructions off the telly.

And so it seems a particularly perverse action for someone who is at best indifferent towards sport to take on a commission with that as its subject. I always advise writers to work from their passion, their fascination, but this can also be acquired. As I anticipated, the research for the project has been fascinating. Apart from my long reading list, I’ve interviewed former world class athletes and several Paralympians, who have all had one thing in common: astonishing, jaw-dropping drive. The level of sacrifice young sportspeople and their families make for the chance of getting up on a podium and having a ribbon put round their neck has both humbled and terrified me.

Sport, the competitive spirit, and this form of commitment is something I will never fully understand. But until the production opens in May 2012, I will spend the next months trying to.