From 20 to 23 September, Queensland Theatre became a vibrant hub for artistic expression, inclusivity, and boundless creativity. Undercover Artist Festival showcased a mix of world premieres, Brisbane debuts, and returning favourites, creating an electrifying atmosphere that celebrated the talents of artists with disability and challenged preconceived notions.
The theme for Undercover Artist Festival 2023 was ‘Our Power’. The power in striving to be yourself in a world that often tells disabled artists they don’t belong. To telling authentic stories and inspiring others to do the same and to pave the way for artists with disability to speak up, strive for equality and not accepting things for what they are, or what they should be. But being an agent for wanting more. From emotionally meaningful productions that touched the hearts of audiences to light-hearted dance routines, the Festival presented a collection of talents that shattered stereotypes and illustrated the power of disabled artists on stage. Treating audiences to thought-provoking theatre, unforgettable musical performances, quick-witted humour, immersive poetry, captivating cabaret, and, for the first time, an all-accessible dance floor.
Image: Alexandra Ellen on stage performing Betsy and I. There is a man in a grey sweater standing next to her looking the opposite direction. Alexandra is wearing overalls with a white t-shirt underneath and a headband. There are boxes pilled up in the background behind both artists.
Image: Kathryn Hall on stage performing Sheltered. She is sitting down with a patchwork quilt behind her. Kathryn is wearing a white t-shirt and is holding a puppet in either hand, looking down at them laughing.
“In 2023, we welcomed several world premieres including the fabulous and brilliant Sleep and the City by Emma-June Curik, which had us singing along one moment and in amazed silence the next. Alexandra Ellen’s Betsy and I was equal parts heartfelt and hilarious, and the sell-out crowd loved it! But those weren’t the only shows to elicit an ‘Undercover Ovation’! Kathryn Hall’s Sheltered received raucous applause and the foyer was buzzing after the fantastic performance which expertly interwove accessibility with poignant storytelling and plenty of humour along the way.” Said Festival Director, Madeleine Little.
Other Festival highlights included the electric atmosphere at Club Undercover and the powerful bringing together of community. DIDG – Deaf Indigenous Dance Group – presented a beautiful performance which culminated in inviting everyone up to learn how to shake a leg. Soon after Goddess Naavikaran took to the mic and the DJ deck as we turned the theatre into an accessible club where everyone is welcome. Dancing, singing, mingling, signing, captioning – Club Undercover created magic we’ll never forget.” Added Festival Director, Madeleine Little.
Image: DIDG and multiple members of the public on stage during Club Undercover. There is blue stage lighting on them and the stage floor. Everyone on stage is learning how to ‘Shake a Leg’, looking at a member of DIDG following their dance moves.
Image: Goddess Naavikaran on stage during Club Undercover. Naavikaran is standing infront of a microphone and laptop, she has her hand in the air looking out to audience. She is wearing a camo long sleeve crop lop and has red stage lighting on her. There are interpreters in the distance on stage.
Image: Emma-June Curik on stage performing Sleep and the City. She has full length hot pink pyjamas on and is speaking while looking out at audience. There is a white four post bed behind her, with white linen and pillows, and a white piano. There is a man playing the piano singing into a microphone. A interpreter is standing on stage to her right.
But this year’s Festival was about more than just the performances, it was also platform for fostering community and promoting authentic representation on stages. Over three days, the Festival hosted workshops and panel discussions, creating opportunities for artists and attendees to engage in meaningful conversations about disability, art, and accessibility.
Festival Director, Madeleine Little reminded us. “In 2021, I shared that Undercover Artist Festival creates a platform on which disabled and d/Deaf artists can present their work and have their legacy last a lifetime. This year, our platform showcased some of Australia’s best disabled and d/Deaf talent, and clearly demonstrated why our Festival is vital. The breadth of talent and performance skill from artists with disability can not be overstated. We have seen absolutely astonishing work from artists with different backgrounds, stories, voices, styles, and so much more on offer. And we provided a level of accessibility for audiences that is unparalleled in most arts events and festivals, because we believe that art is for everybody – to consume and to make, too.
I’m looking forward to the future of Undercover Artist, excited about the new voices we’ll meet, the projects we will help develop in 2024 and the stories we’ll platform when the Festival returns in 2025. We’ve come so far since the Festival was conceived in 2015… but I promise, we’re just getting started! “
Image: InsideOutside dancers standing on stage performing Embrace. There are five dancers all wearing the same outfit. A yellow t-shirt and black pants, both clothing items have blue, red and green swirls through the clothing. They all have their hands in the air to the right of them.
Image: Aspy Jones and Emma Tomlinson singing on stage during WunderSounds. Emma is wearing all black, and has blue tassel earrings on. She is holding a microphone looking at Aspy. Aspy is holding a traditional brown guitar and is playing it while Emma sings.
We look forward to reuniting in 2025 for another unforgettable Undercover Artist Festival.
Did you attend a performance at Undercover Artist Festival 2023? We would love to hear from you! Complete our survey here, so that we can continue to present an amazing, disability-led experience at Undercover Artist Festival in the future.
Presented by Access Arts in association with CPL – Choice, Passion, Life, Undercover Artist Festival promises to dazzle audiences with an electrifying showcase of theatre, comedy, dance, music, poetry and more from 20 to 23 September at Queensland Theatre.
Thank you to Queensland Theatre, Brisbane Festival, Truis, Brisbane City Council, Creative Partnerships Australia, Vision Australia, CFC Foundation, Veracity, Spicers Balfour Hotel, Cairns Regional Council, Ningana Trust, Pure Catering and the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland and the Department of Seniors, Disability Services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships for their ongoing commitment.