Generally speaking, we’re creatures of habit. Would you agree?
We establish routines and follow them. Patterns of behavior are observable across different environments. Some of us are more predictable; others more likely to more frequently diverge. It’s conscious and subconscious, learned and absorbed.
Generally speaking, we also interact with the world with a filter of learned assumptions about how it’s “supposed to be.” What’s typical. What’s normal.
dog & pony dc’s work isn’t often called typical or normal, and yet we as theatre artists were all born, educated, and employed in an industry full of habits, routines, and assumptions about the way theatre should be generated, produced, and consumed. As theatre in America has evolved over the last 60+ years, what a play is “supposed to be” has become more rigid. It’s passed on those expectations to the audience–this is what you should plan to see–and to the creators–these are the elements it should contain. Leading this is the assumption that stories are to be told predominantly through visual and sonic elements in the theatre (actors’ movement, text spoken, costume colors, sound effects, etc.).
So while dog & pony dc may involve audience in imagining the next generation of technology to save the world inspired by the electric toaster, Toast was still a character-driven, spoken-word focused production heavy with visual and sonic elements. We started our process using a linear audience journey that anyone who was sighted could experience (as long as performances were interpreted).
As we expand our work with D.C.’s Deaf community, produce more shows in non-theatrical venues, experiment with Museum Play, and partnered with the National Building Museum, we’ve realized we’re not fully utilizing theatrical design elements or manipulating them for interactive use as much as we could. When you boil it down, we were stuck in a rut. We weren’t being sensible in our approach.
Sense-Able is our initiative to chip away at the idea of “normal” in how we make and consume theatre. And the act of chipping is hard! Normal is a big block of stone that surrounds us and it’s frequently invisible. We’re constantly questioning ourselves and sometimes feeling as if we’re recreating some hokey theatre experiments from the 1960s. But the goal is different: to build our toolkit toward being more inclusive in our practice so that we aren’t thinking about “access” programs once the play is built; we’re building more accessible plays from the start.
And yet. “Accessible” is such a weighted term. Accessible to whom?
To start, this past year, we ultimately focused on elimination of sight and sound in our performance generation process–as if we were making short pieces for DeafBlind community. (This was inspired by the Scene4magazine article “My Dream Play” by DeafBlind poet John Lee Clark.) As a predominantly hearing and exclusively sighted company, we recognize that it is the dominant culture (hearing, sighted, non-disabled, etc.) that needs to be doing the learning and awareness. Sense-Able grows in part from that understanding. We aren’t sure where after this first round of workshops and shows where it will go next. Likely we will continue exploring in this area for a while, but we know more will come.
Expecting our other three senses–smell, taste, and touch–to take the lead in shaping a theatrical production would have seemed an absurd assertion to me not a few years ago. But our sense of what’s “supposed to be,” or sense of what’s normal, doesn’t mean it’s right or final. Our sense of wonder can be activated, allowing our assumptions to be challenged and overturned. Our lives can be a journey of discovery.