Film ‘Broken Speech’ by Tony Diamanti: A strong and clear voice.

photo-7Tony Diamanti speaks through a digital and human intermediary. He himself taps on a keyboard with a extension hung from his head like the lamp of a lamp fish. Figuratively speaking the extension illuminates his thoughts, but instead of functioning as a lure to gobble up other fish, Diamanti uses his interrupted voice to establish a connection with others that leads to an uncovering, a construction of himself as a living and visible man. The connection means a choice between existing and oblivion, because,”at first people don’t see me at all. I’m invisible.” His lamp does draw people in, “Their curiosity keeps [me] alive.”

“Don’t shy away,” would be the first words, Diamanti says, that he would utter if he could use his own voice box.photo-8

On stage, in a two man play, a third person carries his voice loud and smoothly and quickly. Because we recognize our own thoughts in his’, we connect with Diamanti. Is it his thoughts or does the third person’s voice connect us to him directly. Do we stop seeing his disability? Or do we finally just see him? Is it problematic that we connect to Diamanti more fully when his speech is like our own? Or is it our initial unfamiliarity with this particular form of speech that shapes the gap between him and us and is it our growing familiarity that gradually allows us to hear him as the person he is? Does the increasing familiarity mean that the play is about him or maybe turns into a play about him? Is it about us accepting a representation of Diamanti that is real or a representation of a person Diamanti wants us to see? This is an important question. This question follows, I think, directly from the earlier thoughts about representation, and is one that we ask of every actor, every memoirist, everyone who talks about themselves.

Ultimately then we see Diamanti as an actor.

It takes us longer, the first time. Our brain goes through the interrupted speech slowly, then faster, and ends up allowing the intermediate stops to completely disappear.

Diamanti calls this process ‘the politics of representation’. He insists, “Don’t just hear my words, listen to them, then see me. If you see me first, you might not listen to me.” He is wrong. We see him alright. And we want to hear more.

Sarah Crosskey- performance and workshop.

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Crosskey gives a total body experience to the group. Her performance has elements of touch, smell and hearing.

When Cathy Berry, accessibility manager at the Diversity and Equity Initiatives Office, turns off the lights in the Black Box Theatre, you are tempted to say that you do not see anything. The reality is that although it is dark those of us with seeing eyes can see shapes and most of us see the space through one or more of the other senses: touch, hearing and smell. Brain research has shown that the brain shows something called plasticity. ‘Show’ is an apt word choice because signals from one’s nose and ears are interpreted in areas that science used to designate as the visual locus; the place where sight was created and nothing else. Now they know that signals from other senses get processed in the same area- after running through other corners of the brain. The dark that Sarah created instills apprehension, fear and intimidation the longer it goes on. Crosskey says,’I was protecting myself from an unfamiliar situation’. Not only did she try to control the built environment, she also built a literal, tactile shield around herself. Layers of clothes and a plastic, gruesome mask help keep her apart from the audience. With each layer that Crosskey strips off, one sees the patterns on her clothes become simpler and softer, ending with a thin, all black, body tight canvas that represents vulnerability and openness.

Crosskey taps into the minds of the audience members first symbolically by touching them with her earphones and then literally by establishing that connection through stripping her body of clothes in front of and close to everyone in the circle.

Not only does Crosskey unlayer her own body, she uses an external object to signify the same route of protective distance to exposed vulnerability. The grapefruit engages the senses even more than Crosskey has. The scent of the grapefruit fills the room as she passes it around, inviting people to notice the texture and to taste the parts.

One part of communication and identity is about deconstructing yourself and the other part is about peeling off the layers of the external environment, of what society puts upon you. The grapefruit allows your senses to strip off yet another layer of assumptions because you are uncertain of the experience that follows the bite- the sweet or the bitter. In Crosskey’s performance you strip off the layers to get to the true meaning of yourself and your values- you get rid of and thus -perhaps – feel unencumbered by society’s pressures.

The ethernet cable that was rolled out through the hands of the audience then allows a connection when everyone is completely vulnerable. Not everyone enjoys that. Nor, we are told, should we feel that we have to enjoy that closeness.

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Afterwards in the workshop the crowd is asked to embrace shyness, melancholy and other personal qualities that have any negative connotation. Accepting not to ‘fix’ it, but to allow these characteristics to flourish. The performance turns out to be about reframing perspectives.

At the end Crosskey has assembled the people as separate connections to a grapefruit that she rolled around, cut open and shared. It’s a strange, uncomfortable and tactile connection, perhaps free for a moment of inside or outside pressure. Or maybe just aware of the pressures. Not free but aware. That’s a start.