Stories That Need Telling

loading Discussing domestic violence and/or rape in a theatrical or visual art forum makes it impossible for them to remain a hidden shame or secret.

Womanhood, or more specifically, women and their relationship to men – either through family, marriage, the State or religion – form the crux of Say No More, a multi-cultural, multi-arts theatre production that debuted during George Town Festival 2018.

“Marriage is seen as desirable, but also a potentially destructive force for women; we wanted to explore this dichotomy in the play, hence the conceit of the wedding reception,” says Pat Rix, CEO and artistic director of Tutti Arts, Australia’s leading multi-arts organisation for artists with a learning disability.

Pat Rix, the CEO and artistic director of Tutti Arts.

Say No More is a cross-cultural collaboration between Tutti Arts, Stepping Stone (Malaysia) and Perspektif (Indonesia), and putting the production together was certainly no small feat. “We worked with over 60 women from three different countries, across many different languages and a huge array of cultural backgrounds. In all the workshops, there were women with a huge range of abilities, disabilities, ages, relationships, and life, class and art experiences.”

“We married professional artists with community participants. For some, this meant finding different ways of working. For others, it was their first foray into the arts. For everyone, it meant being really patient, ensuring that we listened to each other, repeating things in different languages (and dialects) so that everyone was on the same page, and that we were actively listening and honouring the stories being told.

“This was really important to ensure that we didn’t just come along and impose our ideas onto the project; it was a real collaboration. We challenged each other’s opinions, assumptions and ignorance, and honesty and trust were key to the process. This is sometimes not easy, but the hard yards ensured that we came up with a project full of honesty and integrity.”

The stories performed are personal accounts of the artists themselves, and reveal how profoundly marriage influences and shapes the social and cultural circumstances of women.

One performer recalls being branded a freeloader by an ex-friend – “I’m the type of woman who can only spread my legs and ask my husband for money. I thought being married meant that we could start a new life. All my old stories, I had sealed them in boxes and put them away in the storeroom. But it turns out the past is a cruel monster – one that could tear open the boxes in the storeroom of our minds.”

Another calls out the contradictory standards imposed by some men on women: “Are we expected to behave like nuns but perform like prostitutes?”

“The stories in themselves are important to tell,” says Rix, “but it was equally important to remember that they were being presented by a diverse array of women, many of whom had overcome adversity. These stories remind us that it’s not easy to separate issues about sex, gender or sexuality from issues of class, race, religion and all the other identities that overlap with gender; and also of the injustices against women.”

By discussing domestic violence and/or rape in a theatrical or visual art forum, it becomes impossible for them to remain a hidden shame or secret. “Across all cultures, marriage is perceived as a big business and there is huge pressure on young women to buy into the dream of a ‘happy marriage’. Say No More exposes marriage with warts and all. At a very basic level, it pries open the door to expose the good, the bad and the very ugly aspects of marriage.

Tutti Arts works with disabled artists to give them a voice and a real presence.

“Marriage is seen as desirable, but also a potentially destructive force for women.”

“Giving women with disabilities a voice and a real presence also makes it impossible for people to ignore or dismiss that they are articulate and talented, yet treated in a shabby way by many people across cultures.”

Working with Disabled Artists

Tutti Arts began as a community arts and cultural development organisation, and more recently as a multi-arts centre, with the creation of complex cross-cultural works like Shedding Light, BEASTLY and Say No More for presentation at international festivals.

The organisation has an established reputation for creating some of the best multi-art events in Australia with people who experience a disability: through collaboratively developing opportunities for them to access and participate in the arts; creating an environment where people with a disability have a powerful voice in the creation and direction of their art; and seeking out and working with a diverse range of partners to develop opportunities, be it locally, nationally or internationally.

“Our programmes support these artists to make work that matter to them and that connects with an audience. We enjoy divergent points of view – from those who want to celebrate being different and move away from disability, to those who want to identify as disabled artists and use art to provide insight into the experience of living with disability.

“We’ve been doing this for 21 years and the huge social and cultural benefits for our artists and the wider community are the result of the deep culture and idealism within Tutti. In every project we undertake, the process is as important as the outcome, and this cannot be rushed or taken in directions it does not want to go.

“We will continue to challenge the traditional spaces where art-making occurs and to challenge the notion of who participates in that process, how they participate and where they can present their works.”




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