Hard and Able – a jay stewart project

By Michelle Barker

Hard and Able is unlike anything that I have ever seen.  I’m pretty sure that’s what Jay Stewart intended when combining the ingredients to make this cabaret, featuring acts performed by those identifying as queer and disabled.

The piece was performed in a small space in the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre; the audience didn’t exceed one hundred people.  Susanne and I chatted quietly amongst the crowd which was bubbling with energy before the show even started.

Hard and Able features ten acts on a variety of subjects, in a variety of mediums including photography, drag performances, music, skits, videos, and spoken word.

Maybe I’m not used to this style of theatre, perhaps I wasn’t emotionally prepared for the subject matter, but I felt as though I was a child sitting in the front row of a movie with my eyes darting around, trying to take in and understand everything that was happening.  Rest assured, however, that it was an experience that moved me for reasons that I can’t express.

As one who does not identify as queer or disabled, it was an incredibly profound experience to take in the stories being told on the stage.  However, the best part of the experience for me was how attainable each performer was.  I wanted to hear their stories and I wanted to relate to them.

I have to highlight a couple of performances.  They were totally different from each other in almost every respect, a fact that exemplifies how diverse the talent in this showcase was.

I can only describe Philip Cairns as one of the most beautifully tragic, profoundly funny people that I have witnessed in a while.  The contrast between his subject matter (depression) and his overall demeanour of excitement and bubbly energy was hysterical at times and unbearably sad at others.  Combine this with the profound truth that lies in all of his poetry and you get a really dynamic act.

Melisa Brittain & Danielle Peers presented an incredibly funny video called G.I.M.P Boot Camp about acclimatizing oneself, as a disabled person, to society in order to make sure that the world is not discomforted by people with disabilities.  Susanne noted that it was a hilariously accurate representation of society’s view of disabled people.  She also loves seeing people make fun of themselves, so the light-hearted nature of the piece sat well with her.

I would have to say that if Jay Stewart had decided to go down a more simplistic path, this show would not have worked.  If he had not combined a variety of styles, topics, and moods, I think it is safe to say that the truth of the night would not have shone through as profoundly as it did.

Sadly for everyone who missed it, this was a one-night only affair, but keep your eyes and ears open for more from Jay and if you get the chance to check out one of his productions, then I strongly recommend that you do.