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Nation's only disability-led festival changing arts sector from within


Undercover Artist Festival is challenging perceptions of disabled artists with death-defying aerial performances, cabaret, and comedy. But the Festival is not an inspiration, it is a showcase of work that gets overlooked.

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Undercover Artist Festival was born in 2015 from community calls for disabled artists to have the space to present their work and achieve better representation in the industry.

Madeleine Little, Director of Undercover Artist Festival, said the Festival challenges ideas of what arts excellence looks like by allowing performers to tell their story on their terms.

“The disability-led angle is about who has the right to tell what story. Undercover Artist is about taking up the space to tell their stories the way that they want to and need to. It’s an exciting opportunity to invite everyone in to see how much better our sector could be if we truly welcomed everyone to take part,” she said.

“This Festival is not inspirational just because there are people with disability involved.

“If you came and saw a show and thought it was incredible and the story was inspirational or the death defying stunts were unbelievable, that is a different thing.

“We are worth a lot more, and are capable of a lot more, than people give us credit for and it’s a great opportunity to come and see that.”

Six years after its inaugural event, Australia’s only disability-led festival is showcasing bold and varied works across three days and across three different tracks of experience: Creative, Career, and Community tracks.

The Creative track involves professional performing arts work, almost half of which are world-premieres, including Nerve which is an exploration of the limits of the physical body by aerialist and wheelchair user Lauren Watson.

The award-winning Happy-Go-Wrong by Andi Snelling sees a roller-skating French angel engage in a rescue mission following Snelling’s battle with a tick-bite induced brush with mortality.

Lauren Watson’s Nerve debuts at Undercover Artist Festival (Image: Supplied)

Oliver Hetherington-Page presents The No Bang Theory, an attitude-adjusting comedy cabaret which challenges representations of autism and there will be musical performances and comedy nights throughout the Festival.

As well as the Creative track, the Festival’s Career track helps to redress the imbalances associated with being a disabled artist.

“Career track is a way to engage in potential professional development opportunities and to connect and network with the sector,” said Little.

This year’s program also includes Meeting Place, Australia’s annual forum on arts, culture and accessibility, a mix of workshops, panels, and networking which will arrive in Brisbane for the first time.

“The Community track is designed for community theatre or performance groups who may not be at the professional level yet but are working towards it,” said Little.

“There is a perception that all disabled work is community work but the Creative track is about presenting those professional standards of work while the Community track allows us to spotlight works in their earlier stages.”

Little said the attitude often levelled at disabled art is that it is too hard to support for an outcome that is not as good.

“We’re really trying to challenge that idea. It is a lot easier than you think to support people with disability and the outcome is more powerful and engaging and brilliant than you’d ever expect.

“If we want an arts sector that adequately represents the Australian society that we live in, we have to include disability as part of that.”

Undercover Artist Festival begins 16 September and runs until 18 September at Queensland Theatre. For more information visit Undercover Artist Festival’s website. 

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