French Café, a re-adaption of the cabaret theatre production originally showcased in 2019, was reimagined at Grafton’s Plunge Festival earlier this year. Funded in part by the Regional Arts Fund (RAF), the 2022 adaption retained the brilliance of the original, but this time leaned into a deeper focus on the theatre company’s disability-led processes.
The scene of the production was set by a Spanish composer and poet as he described the quirky French café – a place where everyone belongs, where love is always possible, and where dreams can become a reality. French Café is a celebration of human eccentricities, where chaos and absurdity are welcomed as part of the wonderful parade of life.
The new production, created to challenge and change the audience’s perception of disability within the arts, shines an important light on the valuable contribution artists with disability make to the cultural life of their communities.
Sprung!! Integrated Dance Theatre’s Executive Director, Liz Terracini says the rationale for the re-adaption was to explore the cabaret genre in depth, this time through the lens of the Sprung! Ensemble, and realise each artists’ vision.
“The ensemble knew the original production well, and by removing allied performers, the re-adaption created space for the ensemble to carry the story, introduce new ideas and take the production to another level,” says Liz.
Original cast members of the production provided mentorship to ensemble artists, supporting the group to expand on their ideas and the technical capacity to realise them.
The production garnered a diverse audience, from people with personal connections to people with disability, people interested in arts and health, social justice, as well as mainstream audiences who love innovative dance and theatre. With audience immersion a key element of the French Café experience, performers masterfully interacted with audience members through offstage drama that begins as soon as they arrive.
Through community workshops held in Grafton and the Northern Rivers region, Sprung!! was able to engage other local performers with disability from the region as support acts, performing vignettes as the audience arrives, and during the production.
“The production was a unique experience for Grafton audiences. It was highly entertaining and interactive, whilst inviting the audience to reflect on any preconceived notions of the limitations of disability,” commented Liz.
The production created several paid employment opportunities for artists with disability, as well as arts workers and technical staff, with RAF funding providing essential support for artists and other creative fees.
Sprung!! Integrated Dance Theatre Company is a not for profit and community-based organisation providing workshops and specialised dance and theatre training for people with disability. Since 2012, they have produced six major works, exploring universal themes of the human condition, including identity, love and belonging. The re-adaption of French Café is another example of the Company’s commitment to meaningful employment for local artists with disability.
“The goal for Sprung!! is to create an inclusive society that embraces an arts’ for all approach brings the social benefits of a sense of belonging and social cohesion for audiences and participants alike,” says Liz.