Performance artist Rachael Young opens her arms wide and upward. Rachael is a black woman. She’s pictured centre stage, in the lower third of the photograph.

Rachael Young, 2019. Michelle Peek Photography and courtesy of Bodies in Translation: Activist Art, Technology & Access to Life, Re•Vision: The Centre for Art & Social Justice at the University of Guelph.

Between September 2019 and March 2020, across the traditional territories of the Anishinaabe (and later, the Haudenosaunee, Métis, and other Indigenous peoples), the British Council and Bodies in Translation partnered with three universities to offer Relaxed Performance (RP) training to teach up to 240 students in three distinct disciplinary programs. RP training delivered to select courses in these programs centred on how to incorporate RP practices into class mid-term and final projects, which were arts events open to the public. Each of these projects were housed in post-secondary institutions whose histories are deeply embedded in eugenic, ableist, and colonial systems that complicate their contemporary relationships to disability and accessibility praxis. The projects were as follows:

  1. A crip fashion show called “Beauty to Be Recognized,” offered by students in X University’s Faculty of Communication & Design;
  2. Two theatre performances of “Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)” produced by students in York University’s School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design; and,
  3. A community and student-based choral ensemble performance at the University of Guelph’s College of Arts called “The Singing Spirit.”

This RP Curriculum Pilot followed four years of the British Council’s RP training across Canada. The training was adapted from a United Kingdom (UK) model, with an increased focus on disability justice, a framework that centres the experiences of the most impacted. In 2018, the British Council partnered with BIT to research the impacts of RP training. This research documented increased interest in RPs and a new demand for disability-led RP training in the 2019 landmark report, Relaxed Performance: Exploring Accessibility in the Canadian Theatre Landscape. The report also pointed to evolutions in RP training, noting the importance of non-prescriptive RP training and delivery strategies tailored to specific disability communities and implemented broadly across the arts.

See also