We speak to co-founders of Quiplash and Associate Artists at Brixton House Theatre, Amelia Lander-Cavallo (Aka Tito Bone) and Al Lander-Cavallo.
First off can you us about your creative practice?
Quiplash is a young creative, performance and consulting project that looks to take space for d/Deaf disabled and neurodiverse people across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum (aka queer crips aka quips). We are quip led by actual married couple Al and Amelia Lander-Cavallo. Amelia is a queer, nonbinary blind person who works as a multi-diciplinary performer, director, academic, workshop facilitator and consultant. Al is a neurodiverse queer nonbinary human who works as a producer, organiser, consultant, designer, access worker, artist and sometimes performer.
We run training and consult on disability awareness, disability justice and access with a specialism in queer and integrated audio description. We also make performances from an access first perspective, meaning that everything we do begins by making sure queer disabled people have a space that is made for them. Everyone else is absolutely welcome, but y’all are a guest in our unapologetically quip house.
For us, making access visible (audible, smellable, touchable, tasteable) is a radical act that can push the boundaries of performance practice in exciting and inclusive ways. Essentially, we like to “fuck with” (to use the academic term) perceived norms of space, time and creativity within and beyond our own community in order to facilitate discussion and change. We also always strive to create and promote community based models of access and inclusion that can act as an example of good practice in the arts.
If you had to use 3 words to describe yourself/your creative practice, what would they be?
queer crip arts (if we could have a fourth we’d throw in “access” though hopefully it’s implied)
What motivated you to follow a creative career?
We decided to combine forces to create Quiplash when we realised as a couple that we couldn’t find queer spaces that were accessible to us and we couldn’t find disability led spaces that accepted our queerness. In queer spaces when all we wanted to do was go on a date, one of us (usually Al) would have to act as the other’s access worker often at the expense of their own access needs. In disability led spaces we were (and often still are) that “nice lesbian couple” who gets misgendered regularly. Even in disability led spaces we’ve found that access for blind and visually impaired people is rarely prioritised.
After getting repeatedly frustrated, we realised that if we wanted something to change we would have to do it ourselves. We also realised that our combined skill set makes us into something of a powerhouse team because together we have experience in so many different aspects of performance, creative and communications work.
What we have found since starting is that we were not the only people feeling frustrated by this situation. We get told repeatedly by queer and/or disabled people how comfortable they are in our shows and workshops and how rare that is. I think it is the steady build of feedback like this that has helped us realise we are on to something exciting!
You are a multidisciplinary creative – how do you spread your time across your disciplines or how do you blend your disciplines into one creative practice?
People often are surprised by how many different things we do, and the thing is, for us as queer disabled creatives, being multidiciplinary is a means of survival. The ability to specialise is a privilege. For us to have space we have to make it ourselves and that means very quickly learning how to do a bit of everything. This learning is often done outside of traditional means (such as going to uni, working in mainstream venues, etc.) which can make it difficult to prove to other creatives what we do and how experienced we are.
Also, as queer disabled people, we often have to consider multiple ways of being and working at once. Working accessibly while navigating a world that creates many barriers for us often means multitasking and working in multiple modes at once. Our multidisciplinary skills are constant in our practice and our lives by the very nature of who we are and how we have to work. We may have different focuses on different days, but our linch pin is always working from an access first and disability justice perspective. It underpins everything we do which means we always have to work in multiple ways at once.
What type of work is important for you to make and why?
In terms of form, we are happy to experiment with lots of different things… I mean we’ll try anything at least once! With that being said, everything we do will be queer, disability-led work with embedded creative access. This is the reason we started, and in our experience if folks like us don’t make accessible work it either doesn’t get made or is not done well. We have come across many projects that appropriate queer and/or disability culture and access which are usualy lead by non-disabled, cis gendered, straight people who do it to get funding. These projects often end up exploiting the communities they are taking from, and presenting watered down and palatable versions of access and/or queerness that don’t represent or support the communities they are supposedly about.
We as Quiplash are standing on the shoulders of some amazing disability led and queer led activism and art that has paved the way for us to do what we are doing. In our experience, it is the connecting of these two worlds that is missing. Like we said before, we are in a position to take up that space, so here we are. Hopefully others will join us. It’s fun in this little (big?) niche we are filling. And we always have snacks!
What made you want to work with Brixton House Theatre?
We got an email from Gbolohan out of the blue, and he asked if we’d like to be associate artists. As creatives it’s a dream for someone to recognise your work and worth and offer resources, time and space to create whatever you would like. As queer disabled people this isn’t something that comes our way very often, usually we have to fight for every scrap, so it’s an honour to be asked and we can’t wait to see what we come up with (we have some fun ideas…)! We’re especially excited to be working with such a vibrant and diverse company in a brand-new accessible building.
What type of theatre are you most excited by?
We love theatre that is not only accessible, but that plays with access as a creative tool. We also have a soft spot for queer led work, especially drag.
What have you found most challenging in developing your work?
Our biggest challenge is attitudinal barriers from others both in and outside of our community. As queer disabled individuals, we have both faced micro and macro aggressions as we try and further our career. As Quiplash, we have found that some folks don’t fully understand what we do. They think we are a charity for “the poor disableds” and refuse to see us as a professional entity. We have also experienced a fair amount of gatekeeping when trying to reach other queer disabled people. Guardians, case workers, PA’s and access workers for some disabled communities have been pretty queerphobic to us in the past, making it challenging to reach other queer and/or disabled people that we might want to work with.
What piece of work/project that you have worked on/thing you’ve written/directed are you most proud of?
We’re very proud of our show Unsightly Drag and it’s close sibling Unsightly Drag and Friends. We piloted Quiplash through this project in 2019 with support from Extant, Arts Council England, LADA and the National Theatre New Works Department. We held a two week R&D where 7 blind and visually impaired people, 3 drag performers, 2 audio description consultants (or access dramaturgs as we like to call them) and 3 access workers created a cabaret show that made drag accessible to learn and watch for blind and VI people. The point was to give queer blind and VI people the time and access support to learn how to do drag from putting on make up to creating a character. The drag performers got a crash course in working with blind and VI people. Everyone was tasked with creating an act that had integrated audio description embedded into it. We then had a sharing at Chapel Playhouse as part of Bloomsbury Festival that went extremely well.
In 2020 we did it again, this time with some of our blind and VI drags as well as some other disabled draggy friends to make a digital sharing over zoom. This was done for Blomsbury fest with support from Extant and Grocer’s Hall. Though the format was different, the principle was the same. Everyone had integrated audio description in their act. Both shows also had British sign language and were run as relaxed events. It was through Unsightly Drag that we began to form our ethos as a project, as well as our methodology around queer audio description, which is our specific brand of AD.
Give us one piece of wisdom for young creatives in the current climate?
For young creatives, particularly queer and/or disabled ones, we recommend that you find your community. Embrace them and let them embrace you, and remain lovingly critical of the things that you think are missing or not working. These moments of criticism could become the highlight of your career. Remember that working independently doesn’t mean working alone. In fact it usually means the opposite. You need support and a strong network to survive.
Don’t sell your trauma, especially if you come from a minoritised community. That story is yours to tell if and only if you want to. Folks outside of your experience will expect you to talk about trauma, so revel in the idea of joy as an act of rebellion.
Find separation between your practice and your personal life. Identify as an artist but remember that you are not your job. (We still struggle with this one.) Having space between what you do and who you are will allow you to find new experiences and approach your practice from a grounded place. It also means you will be in a better place to take a break when needed, ask for help and generally make self care a priority.
What impact do you hope to have on those that experience your work?
Our ultimate aim is to challenge ableism and queerphobia in the industry and to drive others to do the same. We also want to challenge the concepts of what is “good” or “professional” art as well as how long “good” or “professional” art takes to make. Queers and crips operate outside of normative expectations of time and quality and that is a wonderful thing. We hope the wider industry allows itself to take this into account as we think it will breed healthier practices throughout.
We hope that our examples of practice that have wider diverse representation in terms of who we platform, work with, hire, etc. will create a trend. Hire disabled people! We’re great! Also, pay us. The concept that things can be run on a shoestring or that small pots of funding can or should be stretched across a big project is ultimately inaccessible for a number of reasons and excludes disabled people by the nature of how they are run.
We also hope that people start working with embedding access more and more regularly into their practice and (where applicable) office culture. Representation only works when the spaces we get into can work with us.
Make it uncool to be inaccessible. That’s our ultimate goal.
Amelia (They/Them) blind, non binary, queer, bisexual, multidisciplinary artist, drag king, academic, consultant and co-founder of Quiplash.
Al (They/Them) neurodiverse, non binary, queer, artist, organiser, consultant and co-founder of Quiplash.
Image description: Photo of Al (left) and Amelia (right). Al is a round white human with fantastically curly brown hair with shaved sides, wearing clear rimmed glasses and an excellent denim jacket with a nonbinary flag pin on the collar. Amelia is a slim white human with buzzed brown hair wearing very long colourful earrings and with a trans flag wrapped around their shoulders like a superhero cape. Both have sparkly blue, white and pink makeup on. Al has their arm casually around Amelia’s shoulders and Amelia smiles at the camera. Photo credit: Matthew Jacobs Morgan, taken at Trans Pride 2019.
We all want to make it.
Make it in our chosen career. Maybe make it big.
Sometimes perhaps just make it to pay day.
But whatever our ambition, what unites us all is the desire to thrive, be recognised – and be supported.
And that’s what Lambeth’s Creative Enterprise Zone is all about. Supporting creative people to do amazing creative things without having to leave our amazingly creative corner of south London.
Because we all want to make it – of course – but more than that, we want to Make It in Brixton.