A group of disabled artists and the National Arts Centre (NAC) have been sparring over the NAC’s description of an upcoming play, Une Fête pour Boris by Thomas Bernhard.
The Radical Artists Disabled Network wrote to the NAC objecting to the description: “The decadent story of ‘a legless cripple who invites a bunch of legless cripples to a birthday party for a legless cripple.'”
In a letter seeking support for their effort to ask NAC to change the wording, Alan Shaine, artistic director of Smashing Stereotypes Productions in Ottawa and a member of the Radical Artists Disabled Network, wrote “Our concerns are specifically related to the language used in the public literature promoting this production on NAC’s English-language website.”
Shaine argues that the use of words by the NAC perpetuates ongoing stigma surrounding disabled people.
“We are not talking about the play itself,” says Shaine, “I don’t think they are considering that by saying this play is actually about a bunch of legless cripples, therefore, the NAC is calling disabled people a bunch of legless cripples.”
Rosemary Thompson, director of communications for NAC, sympathizes with Shaine’s standpoint but stresses that the words used are not the NAC’s but the words of Thomas Bernhard, the playwright.
“This is very provocative language,” says Thompson, “but we are in the world of art and art can be provocative because they want to shake the sensibilities of the audience.”
In response to the letters from the Radical Artists Disabled Network and a petition signed by 140 supporters, the NAC have asterisked the words on the English and French website stating that the description is from the translation of Ein Fest Für Boris by Kenneth Northcott and Peter K Jansen, University of Chicago.