The Big Lounge Collective (BLC) was launched at the Young Vic earlier in the year by seven established disabled artists in response to the lack of opportunities and infrastructure for freelance practitioners. DAO editor, Colin Hambrook, had an email exchange with Liz Carr about the BLC’s inaugural piece of work ‘Assisted Suicide: the musical’.
The blurb from the application to get the show up-and-running, described it as “an antidote to the abundance of cross-genre media coverage portraying assisted suicide as an almost inevitable response to physiological change, ageing and / or deterioration through illness and impairment.” Key arguments in favour of a disability-arts showcase are that the issues are always over-simplified; have largely been the preserve of the pro-assisted-suicide lobby and have excluded the voices of disabled people. It goes on to describe BLC as “determined to present a thought-provoking, controversial and entertaining take on the ‘assisted dying’ debate. Hence, the concept of a musical, heavy on irony and anecdote, engaging pop-culture and populism to platform uncomfortable issues and presenting ‘the other side of the story’ with provocation and integrity.”
Colin Hambrook: How did your involvement with ‘Assisted Suicide: the musical’ come about?
LC: I've wanted to lend a comedy slant to the topic and have been playing about with lots of ideas for some time. Then last year, there was a networking event organised by the Arts Council. We all had two-and-a-half minutes to give a presentation consisting of 10 slides for 15 seconds. I said I was wanting to more actively combine my life as an activist and that of an artist and to do so, I wanted to make work about assisted suicide.
I mooted the title ‘Assisted Suicide: the musical’. After that event, the BLC approached me and asked me if I'd like to work with them on this project. And so this collaboration was born.
CH: Katherine Araniello and the Disabled Avant Garde have made a lot of work around assisted suicide. I think the piece that really got me was the live performance they did outside a college where they asked students to sign a petition so Katherine could go to Dignitas. Are there specific art / media events that have inspired your writing of ‘Assisted Suicide: the musical’?
LC: What inspired the musical is mostly the wholly biased, misleading and overly emotive coverage of the subject in the media – whether that be fiction or non-fiction. There can often be a sense that we all want this option; that if you can't wipe your bum yourself then you must inevitably want to die.
But this is a complex issue that needs to be explored properly. It's too simplistic to ask people, “Do you want the right to die when you choose and without pain?” because most of us would say, “Yes,” to that. But if instead you ask, “Should we legalise assisted suicide if we can't 100% guarantee that all the safeguards will protect those who do not want to die?” then I think you at least raise the debate beyond right to life versus right to death. So that's probably been my first motivation.
I worked with Katherine on a film called 'A Time to Die?' It was a response to the Sky TV documentary which showed a man dying at Dignitas. We were struck by how there's a style to programmes covering this topic: the sad music playing wistfully in the background; lots of shots of the person looking sadly out through a window; and an obsession with showing the disabled person in question having their hair washed. Using clips from programmes such as this, we made a short film parodying the style and peppered it with Katherine's and other artists’ / activists’ work. I love what Katherine has done on this subject. Her spoof Dignitas website was probably my favourite piece of art. Very funny.
CH: What influences from pop culture are you drawing from in writing the piece?
LC: In terms of style and content, I'm inspired by many things – from the outrageous ‘Jerry Springer the Opera’ and the song 'Springtime for Hitler' from ‘The Producers’, to more traditional musicals like 'Guys and Dolls' and ‘The Sound of Music’. We've toyed with using existing songs / music but instead are going to have totally original music and will work with a composer when we're further along the process.
This year, we'll write the first draft, get some scratch performances out there but, realistically, it's going to be 2013 before the show is ready to be toured. It's a huge balance between feeling the urgency to get this work out there because of its importance, relevance and necessity, and the desire to make a piece of work as good as it can be. Musical theatre is a new medium for pretty much all of us involved in the show. We've not made it easy on ourselves! But I think we have made the right decision to take assisted suicide and explore it in song!
CH: Will the shows give the audience a chance for open debate about the issues? Or will there be other media events that give a chance to give the issues behind the show another context for airing?
LC: As for audience involvement, well, obviously, first and foremost it has to be entertaining. Having said that, it isn't like anything else out there and it puts across a view and perspective that’s rarely aired. I have no doubt that there'll be lots of opportunity to debate the piece once we put it on the stage. I mean already, just mentioning the title to friends, family, peers, has led to many a passionate and frank exchange of views!
CH: I kind of imagine camp-glam costumes for this show? What ideas for the staging of it have been mooted?
LC: Glam rock? I love that idea! I think I've already mentioned that I'd like a chorus line of people in those lifting and handling type hoists. Tap-dancing assistance dogs appeal too. And backing singers called The Sisters of Mercy? Maybe.
‘Assisted Suicide: the musical’ will combine the darkness of assisted suicide with the campness of musical theatre. Laugh along to songs such as ‘The Bag for Life Suffocation Blues’, pop classics like ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ and the rhythmically dubious ditties like ‘If I Can’t Wipe My Arse, I Wanna Go To Dignitas’. The crippled chorus line will serenade you from the comfort of their hospital beds, the relief of their commodes and the freedom of their overhead hoists.
Myself, Simon Startin and Alex Bulmer are coming up with the plot (and it's rather good even if I do say so myself). We are aiming to do a showing – to get producers’ interest, etc. – at the end of June 2012. We're also hoping to have a showcase for producers and a teaser performance at DaDaFest in Liverpool sometime in July or August. And then, who knows!