Artists With Disabilities Take Centre Stage At The Artscape Artsability Festival

The ArtsAbility Festival celebrates the abilities of artists with disabilities. Now in its 8th year it seeks to engender an innovative, creative space of exciting, heartfelt performances for disabled and able-bodied artists and performers.  It commences on 29 November at Artscape and brings to the stage an array of breath-taking art pieces during National Disability Rights Awareness Month culminating on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December. 

Through inclusivity, performances, dialogue and workshops, the festival continues to use the arts to drive social transformation, addressing the issues that people with disabilities experience in their lives. It further seeks to highlight the significance of accessibility and integration into the arts, all while celebrating the uniqueness that these artists have to offer.

Staying true to the theme Disability, Dance and Diversity, Artscape along with the Unmute Dance Company, has partnered with guest productions from abroad including Diversity in Dance UK, and Sensorium EX, to bring fresh, new performances for audiences to revel and immerse themselves.

According to findings in a research report documented in the African Journal of Disability titled Creating inclusive Performing Arts practices for development of youth with disabilities: A critical ethnographic study, headed by Artscape CEO, Marlene le Roux, exposure to the performing arts provides important skills development and social opportunities for disabled youth.  “It is up to the ‘keepers’ of the performing arts – those in administration and management – to realign the Performing Arts in a way that can best benefit everyone,” cited the report. The report explored how youth with disabilities, who were exposed to theatre performances, were influenced by becoming aware of possibilities for social and economic inclusion.

Audiences can look forward to a jam-packed line-up of artistic performances.


The launch on 29 November will feature the collaboration with our dynamic international partners, Sensorium Ex from the US and Diversity in Dance from the UK. Also featuring on the programme is the in-house company, Unmute Dance Theatre with the production Timelapse at 19:30 in the theatre, which looks at how human beings experience constant change from the day we are born.  We experience many moments, some that remain with us as memories, some live in our bodies as feelings and others we forget. This piece uncovers how these moments move through time and space, what we do now and how it affects what comes next.

Another production to look forward to is Unclear, on 30 November at 19:30 in the theatre by queer disabled artist Louise Westerhout, which follows, in forensic detail, the journey of struggles and triumphs in an altered body following treatment stage 4 cancer and hip/femur replacement. Unclear is a raw account of separating one’s consciousness of mortal existence, and our flawed needs for purpose. This production uses strong language, and was developed in conversation with Craig Leo. 

Also on the line-up is a gripping interpretation of the Islamic story of Adam and Hawa (Adam and Eve), in a piece called Dust to Man by Yaseen Manuel, takes place on 1 December at 19:30 in the theatre. The story starts at the beginning of life as we know it, detailing Adam’s purpose and duties to man on earth. After he was influenced by the ‘forbidden fruit’ the production takes audiences on an insightful journey of how this act changed life as we know it.

Chink in a rubber wall takes place on 2 December at 19:30 a thrilling new work through a collaboration by the Unmute Dance Company and Italian artist based in Switzerland, dancer and choreographer Alessandro Schiatarella. Allesandro’s dynamic relationship with Unmute began in 2016 during his first residency in South Africa with the company, which has since developed into powerful exchanges of creativity and exploration. Allesandro has previously brought two of his works Altrove and One at a Time to the Artsability Festival in 2018, which was met with vigour and enthusiasm. 

Listen to my Hands, on 3 December at 15:00 in the theatre is another piece on the line-up and is a collaboration by Andile Vellem and Jazzart Dance Theatre that was created in celebration of Deaf Awareness Month this past September. This piece is about communication, and how Andile formed a riveting production through movement of his hands. In his quiet world where he found it difficult to communicate, Andile can now speak louder than his voice through the performing arts. 

The above two productions on 1 and 3 December will be preceded on stage by the Diversity in Dance UK performance that aims to expose all artists to different cultures through performing arts and engagement, creating a standard of work that is recognised on a global stage, while creating moving experiences for audiences to enjoy. The UK dancers are Pallavi Nair, Chinyanta Kabaso and Jia McKenzie who is a deaf dancer, while the Unmute Dancers are Nadine McKnenzie, Yaseen Manuel and Tasmin Andrews.

Sensorium Ex has partnered with the Artscape Artsability Festival to bring a collaborative performance to the stage, where artists are able to share with intrigued audiences the magic of expression through the use of technology. The team is working with Artscape to identify performers from the local disability sector to fulfil some of the roles, including that of Kitsune and the Chorus. Auditions for these roles are underway.

Composer and Artistic Director Paola Prestini, explains

“Our aim is to build new methods for co-creation and inclusive practices in Opera by developing approaches to casting and the artistic process, which centre access, inclusion and lived experience as the driving forces of the creative process. The time with Artscape will focus on exploring new collaborative approaches to developing a scene grounded in more improvisational elements – centering the role of a mixed-ability Chorus and their relationships to improvisation (both voice and movement/dance) and early explorations of how we might develop an artistic language for a character who is non-verbal  as the key exploration of the workshop”

“It’s a dream”, shares, Jerron Herman, Choreographer and Associate Director. “Sensorium is a piece of art and a process that is impacted by the communities and environments with which it partners. This is never more true than with the authentic and dynamic partnership where the team of Sensorium Ex will have the chance to develop co-liberatory processes for our opera with the South African disability community. We will focus on a crucial scene, but more emphatically understand our approach to welcoming artists into the work through the work in the context of the ArtsAbility Festival. I’m so excited to explore with a space that is this committed to artistry and equity in equal measure. The Sensorium Ex Opera is being funded by the following international organisations; Ford Foundation, VisionIntoArt, Beth Morrison Projects, The Atlanta Opera and Enactlab.