Balancing Acts
is firmly entrenched in the global disability arts and culture movement – an international movement of disabled artists whose artistic objective is to represent the lived experience of disability as complex, dynamic, and infused with a range of experiences that include hopes and dreams, self-worth and autonomy, sexuality and relationships, and social barriers to disability. We therefore use the performing arts to challenge dominant norms about disabled people. Popular culture typically frames disability as a tragic affliction within, or set upon, the individual. In mainstream theatre, for example, disabled characters are most often defined by the struggle to overcome that “affliction” (e.g. William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker or Brian Clark’s Whose Life Is It Anyway?). Our performance work stands in direct opposition to this treatment. We instead treat disability as the political and cultural identity that it is by entering into uncharted realms of cultural production.

Within this cultural production, we introduce new stories, new metaphors, new images, and new gestures into Canadian performance traditions. Our artistic objective is to reinvent and affirm disabled people as complete, complex, undiminished human beings – breaking free from the tired old sentimentality, the popular but distorted stereotypes of “tragic but brave” victims of an unwanted and undesirable “affliction”. Ultimately, our objective is to contribute to a growing body of work (the canon of “disability arts and culture”) that gives voice to our own lived experience and that shines a light on a more fully human understanding of and interaction with disabled people.

The global disability arts and culture movement deals in many different themes and in diverse aspects of the disability experience, including pride, group solidarity, the complex and rich experience of living with a disability, and anger about the way disabled people have been treated and portrayed. However, not all artists, writers, and performers who have a disability are helping to promote disability art and culture – or to represent the lived experience of disability in their work. Some of these creators do not deal with themes related to disability at all, and enjoy careers in the mainstream instead. Also, some non-disabled artists have created compelling explorations of different aspects of the disability experience. Disability is a complex, diverse phenomenon which is being explored in different ways by all kinds of artists, writers, and performers – but most eloquently by cutting-edge creators who draw on their own lived experiences of disability. These are the artists who are part of the global disability arts and culture movement, and Balancing Acts is Canada’s leading contributor to it.

Balancing Acts and the global disability arts and culture movement also advance the Social Model of Disability. The Social Model of disability makes the distinction between “impairment” and “disability”. Impairment refers to the actual attributes (or loss of attributes) of a person, whether in terms of limbs, organs, or mechanisms, including intellectual or psychological. Disability refers to the restrictions caused by society when it does not give equivalent attention and accommodation to the needs of individuals with impairments. A fundamental aspect of the Social Model concerns equality, and therefore focuses on changes required in society, not the disabled individual. Consequently, the Social Model of disability posits that social inequality is the ultimate factor in defining who is disabled and who is not in a particular society. It recognizes that while some people have physical, intellectual, or psychological differences from a statistical mean, which may sometimes be impairments, these do not have to lead to disability unless society fails to accommodate and include them in the way it would those who are “normal”.