My Introduction To Inclusive Filmmaking: A Reflection

This post was originally written on 17 September, 2018. The day after the most amazing arts workshop I have ever attended – when two of my favourite things in the world (film and theatre) collided! I updated it on 19 June 2020. I’m not sure why I haven’t shared it to my blog yet (laziness I guess!) but in a way I’m glad, because I want to talk about it again and again and again! So here is an excuse to re-share! It is such a brilliant and rare example of equal access. I’m not sure I have experienced inclusion like it since. My sincere thanks to everyone from re:group Performance Collective, and to the amazing Alyce Fisher (executive director of Murray Arts) who made it possible for me to attend/participate.


On Sunday September 16, 2018, I attended an incredible workshop on Live Cinema, facilitated by re:group Performance Collective. It was so fascinating to learn about the steps involved to create this crossover experience of film and theatre. As participants we were given the opportunity to recreate scenes from well-known films. The participants Who took on the role of actor were instructed to imitate The characters from these scenes as accurately as possible, whilst the camera operators worked to achieve the same accuracy with angles and shots. It was interesting, particularly as a person who has always been totally blind, to note the important subtleties that needed to be just right. For example the movement of an eyebrow, or the precise timing of a face breaking into a look of horror or discussed.


Because there wasn’t already enough to be excited about, my day was made when I reflected back and realised this may have been the most inclusive arts workshop I had ever attended. When I was in primary school we spent an entire week creating our own films with some professional filmmakers, but no one bothered to engage me in this process. I never received tips on how to portray characters. And as for being kept well informed of any cinematography or special effects… forget it! Similarly with other acting workshops I have attended (even professionally as an adult), I almost never receive enough information about what’s going on around me – or I receive too much – which prevents me from fully participating and comprehending what is happening.


This particular workshop, however, was an exception. The facilitators and fellow workshop participants always made an effort to describe everything that was going on around me, most of the time without being reminded. Even when many of them were madly running around assisting the other actors, camera operators ETC, there was always someone around to keep me updated on Visual details I would otherwise have missed. Nobody assumed I wouldn’t be interested in these details, or that I didn’t need to know about them. When my turn came to act a part, I was given some great verbal pointers on the facial expressions and movements required… there was absolutely none of that “come and touch my face” rubbish! (Just so we’re all clear, face touching is weird and doesn’t help me get an idea of facial expressions at all!)


I can recall one particular accessibility highlight, when I was struggling to hold a big paper sign in frame. Without me even needing to think of a solution, one of the guys grab some black masking tape to place on the black chair we were using, so I would have a tactile guide to follow. This was all done quickly and efficiently, then we just got on with what needed to be done, like it was no big deal. I never felt as though I was holding up the group, that I was different, special, or that I had been assigned a particular person to “look after” me throughout the day. That, right there, is inclusion!


I do not write this to sound overly soppy and sentimental, but as I pointed out to the facilitators at the end of the day, it is so, so rare for me to experience such feelings of independence and normality within a group of people, especially when completing such visual tasks. I am so grateful, and would like to do it all again!


I have been acting out stories since I was a child. I wish I hadn’t had to wait until my adult years to realise that I could learn good acting and camera technique. I never imagined as a kid that this could, and would, be my future. No child (blind or otherwise) should be made to sit in a classroom for an entire week, literally twiddling their thumbs and thinking about what they had for breakfast, while their other classmates get to create media projects that are put on DVD and shown off to their parents. Everyone involved in this amazing live cinema workshop proved to me, and to everyone reading this, that if we all get out of our own little bubbles and do a little creative thinking, anyone and everyone can experience film and drama.

Micaela’s Monday Musings: Part 2

Another Monday, another addition to this slowly growing collection of Micaela’s Monday Musings. And to make up for the fact that I haven’t posted anything in over a month, I’ve written you a nice long piece with lots of anecdotes! Lucky you! Also they’re just musings so I’m not apologising if it seems all over the place!


Something I have found myself feeling very passionate about lately is how drama can encourage creativity, body awareness and good communication skills during early childhood development. I believe this is important for all children but at the moment I am particularly focusing on the benefits this would have on blind children, as I don’t believe much research has been done on this at all, if any.


As I am a long way off from setting up a drama program for blind young people, and don’t have any readings to refer to on this topic specifically, I have started with what appears to be the only potential sources within my reach: Family holiday videos.


When my siblings and I were quite young, our Dad was often glued to the video camera when we went away. Or if he was busy interacting with his family, that faithful device would usually be set down somewhere close by; capturing some of the most fun moments, the most embarrassing… and some of the most boring too!


As well as feelings of nostalgia and laughing or cringing at the weird things we did as kids, it’s interesting to note some of the little bits of character development (aha Good use of acting terminology there Micaela) that take place during these videos.


In a couple of the videos, we can be seen visiting Australia Zoo in Queensland. My brother, being a huge Crocodile Hunter fan, was eagerly touching and feeding any animals he could get his hands on, whilst my sister and I were not always so keen. We were fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to hold and feed a macaw. In case anyone doesn’t know, it’s a fairly big, noisy bird and the idea was that we would let it sit on our shoulder, hold a peanut between our lips, and allow the bird to grab this with it’s beak. Well… four-year-old Micaela was not having any of that! I was terrified. I refused to even just hold the bird. So, my Mum, along with the very generous staff member holding the bird, patiently worked on convincing me to at least touch it. As I was extremely nervous and had no way of knowing exactly how far away the bird was from my hand, Mum gently placed her hand under mine, so she was able to help guide me and make sure I felt right to the end of it’s long tail, without having complete hold of my hand and dragging it to where it needed to go, which would have been less effective. A similar approach was taken when my sister became anxious about holding a snake.


Another interesting example of desensitising occurred at the beach when every time a wave splashed onto the feet of three-year-old Micaela, I would have a melt down and beg my Aunt who came with us on that particular holiday to pick me up so I didn’t have to experience the texture of sand and water covering my feet. What did my Aunt do? She sat down in the shallows, holding me so that I was secure, but still made to endure the small waves. Naturally, I still objected for a long time, but eventually with the right encouragement, I began to get used to the sensation of waves flowing over my ankles.


The above scenarios are examples of receiving necessary assistance to overcome fears and take risks. However, there are times in life where children and adults alike must be allowed to independently take risks and perform their own problem solving without intervention from others. And here is a perfect time for a final moment from Dad’s collection of holiday memories:


So, back to three-year-old Me again, this time in our holiday apartment. Keeping in mind that my Dad is obviously following me with the video camera, so there is someone watching me the whole time, but he remains silent and I am therefore oblivious to the fact that he is present. I can be seen walking, rather unsteadily on my feet, towards the front door, where I find one of my Mum’s sandals. I try putting my feet in the toe end, but quickly realise this is wrong and correct my error. I then walk out the front door and fall over. After picking myself up I continue on my merry way for a few seconds before I must decide it’s time to go back inside. I wander back and forth for some time, feeling around for the front door. I know it’s there somewhere; I can hear my older siblings playing rather noisily and the television can be heard in the background too, I just have to find that door! Eventually, I do, and make my way in, announcing at the top of my voice that I fell over as if I expect the whole world to stop for a few seconds and admire my bravery.


I relay this story to show an example of me – the blind person – experimenting, making mistakes, and coming up with solutions to my own problems. Meanwhile my Dad – the sighted person – looked on, ready to support his child or stop her from injuring herself if necessary, but giving her the opportunity to sort herself out first.


Unfortunately, it is too common for sighted folk to assume when we need help, what sort of help we require, and that they are there to protect us from taking any risks at all. Last year during my secondary school drama classes, I was given the task of presenting a five minute solo performance. I selected a plastic takeaway coffee cup as my prop. After practicing my piece a few times in a carpeted room, I performed in front of my teachers and classmates in the auditorium with a wooden floor, which I had not rehearsed in. Had my brain been properly switched on it may have occurred to me that when I reached the part in my performance where the character through their coffee cup in anger, it was going to roll away. Needless to say, there was an unplanned audience participation moment part way through where I was crawling around on my hands and knees whilst the onlookers shouted “to your left a bit more! Now reach out a bit further!” As if the experience itself wasn’t humiliating enough, my teachers told me in front of my classmates that in future I should tie props to my wrists to ensure I would never lose them. It didn’t matter how much I assured them that I knew what had caused the problem and how to deal with it in future, weeks later they were still asking me to tie props to my wrists during the final exam… not sure how they thought this would work considering my two main props for said exam were a chair and a chest!


The point is, school drama became an environment where I didn’t feel free to experiment as much as my peers. I felt pressured to always get things right first go because otherwise it was assumed I was incapable of doing a task, and that’s not how it should be. Throughout our lives we are constantly learning from our mistakes, but that’s okay. Not realising that the cup would role away on the wooden floor had nothing to do with blindness and everything to do with me not considering the environment I would be performing in. Sure, the fact that I couldn’t see where it rolled to meant that it was harder for me to locate it, but in my head, I was already thinking of strategies to prevent this in future, and I knew it wouldn’t be a problem for the final exam because none of my props were round and three dimensional shaped. As a creator and performer, I need to be allowed as much experimentation and risk taking as my sighted colleagues. I have to problem solve all the time, like how am I going to book this ticket if the website’s not accessible? How will I get to the shops when I can’t take my familiar route while the road is blocked off? How will I give my kitchen floor a thorough clean after dropping a jar of honey when it is very likely that I will leave some behind in the initial clean? How will I orientate myself to this new and unfamiliar performance set? I think you get the idea… I’m pretty used to making mistakes, encountering problems and solving them. Please believe that I know my own mind and be assured that if I need your help, I will ask for it or accept your offer gladly. But if I come up with a solution, don’t rule it out just because the blind person thought of it… let’s give it a go first!

Micaela’s Monday Musings: Part 1

Hello readers! Welcome to both my new blog and more specifically to Micaela’s Monday Musings! Before any of you regular blogging people get too excited, I’ll just point out that I don’t know if I’ll update this segment weekly; just whenever ideas come to me. But just think, every Monday when you’re struggling to come to terms with the early start for work or getting the kids off to school or whatever you do on a Monday, you can think “Maybe, just maybe, Micaela will decide to post some Monday musings today.” Won’t that just brighten up your Monday?


Did someone say ego? Sorry… I don’t know what you’re talking about!


Righto… here we go with Micaela’s first ever Monday Musings…


I recently discovered what it feels like to really love a job. Don’t worry, I still adore holidays and quiet weekends. But I don’t procrastinate or feel a sense of dread every time I open my computer to complete a work related task. I actually just spent my weekend doing a heap of writing for my job and I can’t think of another way I would have preferred to spend the time. I even had to force myself to take breaks, where as I used to long for those moments when I could just sit down and read a good book or watch Netflix!


“Micaela, you’re joking, right?”


“Okay, so, what brought on this sudden change?”


I believe the answer is quite simple… I have found something I am passionate about. Such a cliché, I know!


Quick history lesson about me: I tried a bachelor of music at the beginning of this year, I think mainly because I had subconsciously convinced myself that it would be impossible to try what, deep down, I really wanted to do. It became clear soon after commencing this degree that I was in the wrong place.


So what happened next? I’ll tell you what happened…


I joined local physical theatre classes, connected with some local theatre/drama type folk, and five months later, it turns out I am in the process of creating a one person show, to be performed in a theatre near you soon hopefully… haha we’ll see about that! I definitely feel I am where I should be now though.


One thing that has decided this for me is the realisation that advocating for myself no longer constantly feels like a chore. At uni, explaining to the same people over and over again why I required braille music to complete my studies always felt exhausting and tedious. I think that, had I really wanted to succeed in the music industry, I would have kept fighting to be treated the same as any other musician, and worked to ensure I had all the resources I would need to be successful. But the more I fought for those things, the more I realised I didn’t want them. Now, in the theatre scene, in those moments when I have to find different strategies for understanding a visual concept or I face barriers due to sighted colleagues making assumptions about what will or won’t work for me, the explaining and advocating often seems more tolerable. It gives people an insight into my world, and in turn I often learn about how they experience things, too. I also feel that I am fighting to succeed in a field I am interested in. Sure, it can still be frustrating and energy zapping, but the cause is worth fighting for – to further my career and, who knows, maybe even make things easier for future totally blind people to access drama, physical theatre, and the arts in general.


To sum up, my recent revelation is that you’ll know when you really love something, because you will fight to make it happen no matter what challenges and misunderstandings you face. Sorry, that sounds like another dreadful cliché!


I reckon that’s all for this post. If you’ve got any musings of your own, feel free to pop them in the comments. Happy Monday!