Arts & Entertainment

Athleticism & the disabled body – ‘Benched’ at Darlinghurst Theatre

Jamila Main

Jamila Main. Photo: Ren Williams.

A unique piece of intimate theatre is coming to Darlinghurst Theatre Company this May. Benched invites eight audience members to choose a ball, shoe or frisbee before joining award-winning playwright Jamila Main on the bench for an intimate moment of rumination on athleticism within a disabled body.

When Jamila was first commissioned to create Benched they believed it would be a one and done performance that “would never be seen again.” Jamila explained to City Hub that they had this mindset simply because of how experimental the work was. However, despite this belief, Jamila put their heart and soul into this deeply personal work because she realised how important Benched could be for the chronically ill/disabled community & the wider general public.

“I really believe in the power of representation & the power of storytelling,” explained Jamila. “I think by seeing someone talk so openly, candidly and with such vulnerability it can be a good vehicle for people to take you seriously and to see that this is a very human experience. Disability or chronic illness is not a spectacle or the political volleyball that it is often portrayed as in the media.”

Given recent comments by Prime Minister Scott Morrison where he said he was “blessed” not to have disabled children Benched has taken on even greater significance for Jamila.

“It has given me good fire coming into the show,” said Jamila. “I think Benched could educate the Prime Minister about what disability looks like and who it is. Disability is not this horrific death sentence, it’s the ableism or lack of access that make it hard.”

Looking ahead to the debut of Benched at the Darlinghurst Theatre Company Jamila is honoured to be given the opportunity to perform at such a prestigious venue.

“It’s an absolute dream come true and such an honour to have a solo show at Darlinghurst Theatre… It means the absolute world to me that I get to talk about being disabled on a main stage in Sydney and to have that weight of the venue behind it. As disabled people we don’t often get to see disabled people telling disabled stories at that level, which I think needs to change.”

In closing our conversation with Jamila perhaps the most exciting thing for them though was the coming together of the disabled community on such a grand scale.

“I love bringing community building & community connection to the work that I make. With this kind of show you are going to have a lot of disabled people in the audience, so opening that up to not just 10 people but potentially 50 or 100 and giving them the opportunity to see each other in foyer is so special – I’m going to be running out into the foyer as fast as I can after every show to meet as many people as I can.”

Benched will also be available to participate in virtually or watch via livestream/pre-recorded for those unable to attend in person ($10).

May 25-29. Darlinghurst Theatre Company – Eternity Playhouse, 39 Burton St, Darlinghurst. $38-$42+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.darlinghursttheatre.com

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