For some, an empty wheelchair appearing out of nowhere and “inviting” them to interact is pretty confronting.
For others it’s a raucous laugh as the chair obeys their orders or takes the mickey out of them, as if by magic.
Taking it all in from a discreet vantage point is “puppet master” Ferran Orobitg, a seasoned street performer with Spanish company Fadunito who says he’s seen everything from outrage to “poetic” moments.
Ceci 3.0 grew out of workshops Fadunito conducted with groups representing people with disabilities a couple of years ago and explores accessibility in public spaces.
“We try with humour to normalise the handicap, to make the object come alive and show its humanity,” Orobitg told the Herald.
“It’s not a lesson.”
He says the show is created by the audience and their reaction and admits that sometimes it gets pretty hairy when someone takes offence.
“Some people are very angry, they feel we are making jokes on the handicapped people and that is bad,” he said.
Ironically, he says, people with disabilities almost never get upset. One particular moment even brought him to tears. A father was pushing his wheelchair-bound son along a street when he came across the chair. As the performance progressed, the father sat in the chair while still pushing his son and Orobitg watched him experience his son’s world.
“It was simple, but very emotive,” he said. Sometimes he’s mystified by people’s response. “Some people who are working on the street see the wheelchair, but they don’t stop—they don’t see it, like it is a normal thing to see in the street.”
Orobitg said it was fascinating working with people in disability groups and hearing about their perspectives. While they face many barriers such as communication and visual obstacles, and “unethical” behaviour from thoughtless people, his group has chosen to focus only on the physical barriers that limit people with disabilities from doing everyday tasks.
“It questions when you’re in a public place—is it really public?” he poses.
But he’s got a better way for the audience to ponder the effects of accessibility on others’ lives: “Just sit on the wheelchair and try to do your normal stuff.”
Orobitg is a founder of Fadunito, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. He started in amateur theatre before graduating to street performance troupes and ultimately deciding with a couple of friends to start up their own company. Fadunito now employs six full-time staff, which expands to 10 when they’re performing.
by STEVE GRANT