WELCOME TO THE AUTUMN 2023 EDITION OF ATYP’S YOUTH ART SECTOR NEWSLETTER.
Let’s kick off with some reflections from Fleur Kilpatrick from Riverland Youth Theatre…
Hi colleagues, friends, young people, young friends, teachers, makers, teachers who are makers, in my first year running Riverland Youth Theatre it was just Molly and myself. I was the ‘creative producer’, a title that means ‘we used to have an artistic director and a company manager but, after funding cuts… you get to be both!’, and Molly was my 20-hour-a-week admin assistant, pregnant and throwing up in the bin under her desk.
This is the little story of how we went from that to a team of six without an increase to our core funding of just $105,000 a year.
I’ll be honest. It started with Tinder (at least the app was good for something). I matched with a guy who worked for a disability employment provider and he told me he had a volunteer for me. After a month, Tinder Guy walked me through how to make Jay an employee. Centrelink says Jay can work 8 hours a week and the employment scheme can subsidise us $3,000 for the first 3 months and, in some cases, can subsidise for up to six months. Our out-of-pocket that first quarter was $213 FOR A WHOLE THIRD HUMAN!
Jay learnt fast when it came to admin and even faster when it came to dressing up in robes and pixie ears, but he found his calling when we met a boy, who could not attend regular school because, in his own words, “I kick and hit other children”. The boy taught us an important lesson – Family Friendly is not Friendly for all Families – and Jay took that lesson and ran with it. Six months on and Jay is our 1-2-1 Coordinator. His role is now funded through our 1-2-1 participants, all of whom are from families who struggle to spend their NDIS funding in our regional and under-supported Riverland. Jay pairs children up with staff members for 1-2-1 creative play, art, science experiments and community connections. Jay’s friends stop me in the supermarket to tell me how much happier Jay is now that he has a place to go where he is wanted and needed.
One day I heard that Sage, an artist I had previously hired to run a few classes, was a client of the same disability support provider. I called up Tinder Guy and said, “can I have Sage too?” When I told my teen class that I had hired Sage, they screamed with delight. “They taught me sooooo much about autism that I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW!” “I didn’t know what masking was and they just made it all make SENSE!” Sage’s lived knowledge of navigating the medical and mental health system as a non-binary person is invaluable to our young people. Sage is our Queer Support Captain and Producer of The Judys, our 18+ Queer group and P.O.T. LUCK storytelling nights. After their initial funding ran out, I was able to cover their wage through project grants as they are such a multidisciplinary artist.
One day another disability employment provider knocked on the office door, so I boiled the kettle and we started talking. “How are you with trans people?” the woman asked. “Hey Ro,” I called to the trans teen reclining on the couch, “how are we with trans people, mate?” “Nah, we don’t like people like me around here.” Mel joined the team.
Mel’s arrival was a revelation. Mel is an I.T. professional, a skillset seldom available to a tiny country theatre company. Mel will announce “I’ve been watching the way you use the computer and I have some ideas for how to make everything run smoother” or she’ll say “hey, do you think any kids would like virtual reality?” (Um… YES) “I was wondering if you want a 3D printer in here?” (OF COURSE) (We now print custom fidget toys for participants and staff.) “Do you think any kids would like to take apart computers?” (YOU’RE A GENIUS) She is a problem solver, a brainstormer and a chronic apologiser. Seeing her tech knowledge unleashed into a creative space brings me so much joy. I recently wrote a grant specifically to fund Mel’s role and the Take It Apart Club and Crafternoons that she coordinates.
It does have its moments. We have more panic attacks than the usual workplace. More gender dysphoria. More absences to attend medical appointments in far-off cities and more messages from partners updating me on what has thrown their loved one for a loop today.
But it is worth it.
Every day it is worth it. Staff from the disability employment scheme bring innovative thinking, passion, wonderful skills I do not possess, lived experience of disability, medical, governmental, and legal systems and a commitment to making the community a more accepting and accessible place. Our capacity has grown and our young people get to see adults with disabilities living meaningful lives and being proud of who they are and how they contribute to the community.
This week I have another person joining the team (initially as a volunteer to see if it is the right time for her to return to work). She trained as a social worker and has started a little mobility scooter gang in Berri. The two of us are already planning jousting competitions with pool noodles and scooters and making Scooter Gang logos and patches.
Colleagues, look into the disability employment scheme. Providers are always searching for businesses to partner with and everyone deserves a place to go and a team to be a part of. The wife of one colleague recently wrote to me that, since her wife began work at RYT, “she has felt wanted and cherished in a place where she could see herself making a huge difference to the people who attend RYT.”
– Fleur Kilpatrick, award-winning Playwright, Director, Educator and Artistic Director of Riverland Youth Theatre.