I am Kelsie Acton. I’m a PhD Candidate at the University of Alberta, studying integrated dance and timing. I am also co-artistic director of CRIPSiE, which is Edmonton’s integrated disability and crip dance company. I also choreograph, teach and dance.
I often think of my work as primarily for disabled people. There’s certainly some pieces I build with CRIPSiE as an artist that serve as more activist pieces but I’m always wary of putting art out in the world and believing that the art will change the world. My most activist piece, HELP, which explores, well, help, and effectively how help for disabled people and also non-disabled people is often about a projection of what the people helping want the receiver of help to be. So I’ve had reactions to that piece everywhere from people saying, “WOW, I’ve never thought of this, this is very important, thank you” to people yelling at me in talk backs, because they are so very upset at the idea that disabled people might not want their help.
What I feel much more hopeful about is building better processes, better communities, better structures that make art making and art presenting a little easier, a little happier and a little more joyful for disabled artists. That is my preferred intervention point.
Certainly, disability culture has transformed me in vast ways. Everything from the type of art I do, to eventually putting together the pieces to realize I had actually been diagnosed as neurodivergent as a child and in very, sort, of white middle class ways. I was given very age-appropriate information and it was never ever mentioned again. Certainly, those are ways disability culture has transformed me, so I think I hope for more individual transformations?
I’m also really excited when in Edmonton I see normative theatre artists and normative dance artists get really excited and really joyful about the possibility of making their performances more accessible or the possibility of bringing in disabled artists. Hopefully joy is a nice transformative factor, very very slowly.
I really worry when normative artists or normative spaces get really excited about access but they are doing access without connections to community without people to check their work. I want to respect that it’s a sort of a terrible chicken and the egg thing, where if it’s not accessible disabled people won’t come but it’s hard to go out to disabled communities and say, hey who’s interested because there is a lifetime of worth of distress and inaccessbility and all the hurt that causes there. So I think sometimes it is better to try and fail. Hopefully if you fail, somebody will come and yell at you, and you can say, “Ok, How do we do better?”
On a personal level, if we can ban noisy motorcylces and loud car motors and demand that every restaurant have sound baffling in public spaces. There’s no more plain concrete that echoes, I would be really happy, but I also think my needs are, that, I can be out in those spaces for a period of time before it gets painful. There’s a difference between not being able to get into the place at all and experiencing pain when you’re in the place. So that’s my selfish wish. More broadly, —I’m going to be very academic here—I wish for the destruction of capitalism. One of the hard things is access is a lot of work. And, especially multi-impairment access where you are often navigating competing needs and there is a lot of thought and you have to connect to a lot of communities and a lot of people. It is a tremendous amount of labour. The way the world is set up around labour makes that hard to do and hard to do well. So transformations of capitalist structure that leave us tired and exhausted and unable to do a lot of this work.
No small things (laughs)
I’ve been really happy here [at the conference]. Normally in conference spaces there is always something really difficult. I’m sure other people are having difficult times because that is the nature of access that we talked about. But to have a space where I am interested and engaged and not wincing at the ableism in presentations is really extraordinary. It’s really rare in my life so that’s nice.
I think I always want—and it’s difficult because people are brilliant and there is immense pleasure in presentations for me—You always want more space and more time to connect, partly because part of what makes this place feel lovely is because I know a lot of people here. We are spread out across this incredible expansive land and we don’t get to see each other often and I want to see everyone more.
I want to go back and question one of the things I said before. I tried to make a distinction between confronting audism and ableism for non-disabled artists and even disabled artists that are not thinking through audism and ableism. But I’m actually questioning now, maybe making art for disabled people and for disability community, maybe, that is equally confronting ableism. Yea. Community building may be representing people to themselves. Maybe that beautiful moment when you see something on stage that you resonate with that you have never seen before, maybe that is enough confrontation.
Kelsie Acton is a Phd Candidate at the University of Alberta, researching timing in integrated dance. She is also the Co-Artistic Director of CRIPSiE, Edmonton’s integrated dance company. Her research is supported by a SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship and her art has been supported by the Canada Council and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. She is certified in Dance Ability, the internationally recognized system for teaching inclusive dance improvisation.