A New Kind of Listening: Using Documentary Film to Create Inclusive Communities

The following guest blog is sent to us by Polly Medlicott, co-producer of A New Kind of Listen, which received the TASH Positive Images in the Media Award during the 2010 TASH Conference in Denver.

Imagine there is a truly inclusive theater group in your community, where participants with and without disabilities collaborate equally and form long-lasting friendships. Within this group, people with disabilities make valued creative contributions, and individuals who are non-speaking express themselves authentically.

Now imagine that starting the theater group is easy and fun, with no special expertise or funding needed, and no endless meetings …

You can find out “How to Start an Inclusive Community Arts Project With No Money” at the 2011 TASH conference in Atlanta (Nov.30-Dec.3). This Cross-Topic concurrent session meets on Friday at 9:45 a.m. Download more info here.

A New Kind of Listening, recipient of the 2010 TASH Positive Images in Media award, tells the story of an inclusive theater group that I joined along with my son Chris, a 20-year-old with cerebral palsy who, with difficulty, used supported typing to communicate. The film is also witness to Chris’ lifelong struggle to communicate and to be seen as a whole person. During the year that the group met weekly, co-creating and rehearsing an original performance piece, very close friendships developed, and we became like a family to each other. For Chris especially, the theater group was a transformative experience.  Five months after our performance, Chris died suddenly of pneumonia.

View the film trailer here

Since the completion of the film, I am committed to helping advocates use A New Kind of Listening to create inclusive arts projects in their own communities. Organizing a screening of the film identifies community stakeholders and generates ideas and planning; the momentum for an inclusive arts initiative develops through the screening event and its follow-up activities. The Organizer’s Toolkit on our film website is a great resource that describes each step of this process.

In early March, 2010, A New Kind of Listening was shown at a church in Asheville, N.C. Over January and February we had two 2-hour meetings with representatives from the arts and the disability advocacy communities. The short-term local committee brainstormed about inclusive arts, and also offered key support to get the word out about the film showing. Excitement was building! At the event there was a post-film discussion and sign-up sheets for interested participants. At a workshop on the following evening, 20 people came, and Interweave Asheville was born.

During its first year, Interweave met monthly at the church. Improv experiences were led by different people, and afterwards the group members talked about their feelings, needs and goals for the group. In the second year, a core ensemble decided to focus on performance. They began meeting weekly and finding opportunities to perform in the community, as well as leading interactive workshops to engage others in their process.

Everyone is included, close relationships are developing, and so far they have received no funding. At the Asheville Fringe Arts Festival, two Interweave members won the 2011 Fringe Award for Artists Who Push the Boundaries of Everyday Life and Art.  See a video from the 2010 Fringe Festival.

The example of Interweave Asheville demonstrates the simple yet revolutionary principles of our Inclusive Arts Campaign. The basic elements are: using a screening of A New Kind of Listening to organize community artists and advocates around an inclusive arts initiative; having sign-up sheets at the event to identify interested participants; and planning a follow-up activity to build on the energy and momentum to start the project.

To Join the Inclusive Arts Campaign and find out more about hosting a screening of A New Kind of Listening in your community, visit our Organize a Screening page here.

We have a Community Screening Kit available in DVD format. By using the kit and hosting a screening, your TASH chapter, CIL, school, program, community organization, or even your family and friends, can use the film for conferences, training, education, a film series, a fundraiser, or a house party. The Toolkit has discussion questions, guidelines for publicity, and templates for e-mail invites and social media posts. Viewing A New Kind of Listening is guaranteed to shift  awareness and get people thinking about new possibilities for creativity, communication and friendship. You may also purchase DVD’s for universities, high schools, and home use.

Join me for the TASH conference concurrent session “How to Start a Community Inclusive Arts Project with No Money”.  I will share my experiences with several community arts initiatives in North Carolina, and introduce a short, non-threatening improv experience, to show you how the process works. We will also let you know how to get a Community Screening Kit as well as other resources to help you get your own project started.

See you there!

Polly Medlicott