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Kelly Vincent takes a creative role with new SA theatre venture

While most people will know Vincent as a fierce advocate for people with disabilities and through her time as the Dignity Party’s representative on the Legislative Council, fewer may be aware that she was already a playwright and actress – and had even won a “young guns” playwriting award – before entering parliament.

Zavarce, artistic director of not-for-profit arts organisation AJZ Productions, says the pair first met when Vincent was just 16 years old and attended a workshop at No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability.

“We have shared an incredible friendship and artistic collaboration since then,” he says.

“I had the pleasure to direct Kelly as an exciting emerging playwright and actor on a piece called A Little Ballerina’s Agony, which was the hit at the Awakenings Disability Festival in Horsham Victoria in 2007.

“In the same year, I also had the pleasure to collaborate as the dramaturge for And I You, Kelly and Jo Stone’s duet for Tempted [a suite of duets] with No Strings.”

Zavarce was artistic director of No Strings Attached until May this year, when the organisation underwent a restructure. He says he had been nurturing the idea for True Ability for a while, and now was the right time to make it happen – with himself as artistic director and Vincent as creative director.

The organisation’s mission is to create professional theatre pieces, films and advocacy for artists with a lived experience of disability.

Zavarce says it wants to bring a fresh perspective to Australia’s theatre landscape, creating new works that are “strong and relevant to our times”.

Vincent’s role will combine writing and broader artistic input with advice on best practice in access and inclusion, with True Ability determined to create opportunities for people with disabilities not just on stage, but also in behind-the-scenes roles and leadership positions.

“Although there are great disability arts organisations in Australia, many of them do not have disabled people in leadership positions,” Vincent says.

“To truly represent disabled artists and audiences alike, that has to change, and I am excited to be a part of that.”

She says she is happy to co-lead the venture with Zavarce, “because he has a strong and proven ability to work with disabled artists in a respectful and genuine way”.

True Ability’s first project will see the two collaborating on a re-imagining of Gulls, Melbourne playwright Robert Hewett’s 1983 play about a man named Bill who has an acquired brain injury. While Bill often breaks the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience, giving an insight into his feelings, Zavarce says the character has never been played by a person with a disability – something True Ability intends to remedy.

He adds that with the playwright’s blessing, Vincent will adapt the text for today, “so we can really get immersed in this world and bring this play that was so beloved to this era”.

Funded by the Arts South Australia Richard Llewellyn Deaf and Disability Arts Program, they are beginning the first-stage creative development of the work, which it is hoped will go into production next year.

State Theatre SA artistic director Mitchell Butel says he is confident Vincent and Zavarce will create an “exciting new vision” for Gulls, which he describes as an acclaimed play from the Australian theatrical canon.

“The proposed development is ambitious, exciting and needed – both in the diverse ecosystem of our theatre and in how the lived experience of disability is represented on the stage,” Butel says.

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