It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us is a book by Hilary Rodham Clinton. Clinton focuses on the impact individuals and groups outside the family have, for better or worse, on a child’s wellbeing, and advocates a society that meets all of a child’s needs.
Clinton says she chose that African proverb as her title because it offers a timeless reminder that children will thrive only if their families thrive and if the whole of society cares enough to provide for them. Substitute the word “children” with “anyone with a disability” and the concept and ideas have even more stark and important implications.
It Takes a Village is a play created and performed by the Multitask Drama Group, adults with disabilities from the Lismore community and surrounds. Written and directed by Ajita Cannings, audio-visual design by Ryan Andersen and Zeb Schulz, guitarist Chris Mallory and production by Trinity Year 11 VET students. Multitask staff members and volunteers provided support for the actors during the rehearsals and performances.
Ajita Cannings and the group devised the story during two hour long drama sessions conducted twice a week over nine months. A flood isolates the village of Hidden Waters. The inhabitants find a baby and have to take care of it. Some like the baby, some want it gone, and everyone has an opinion about what is the best for the child. The villagers realise they must use their talents and cooperate to take care of the baby and return it to its mother. But how on earth do you change a nappy? It was a humorous and poignant tale about the test of friendship and a tribute to love and letting go.
I don’t believe there is a strong delineation between theatre and life
Multitask’s mission is to provide opportunities for growth, development, support & security for people with disabilities and their communities. To a large extent this underpinned both the form and content of the play. Ajita Cannings began improvising with people of different levels of ability to find out what they could do and wanted to do as individuals and as a group; acting the goat that didn’t want to be milked, or a dancing policeman in a long blond wig. Shaping and assembling these little routines into a narrative created the play.
Ajita comes from a circus and community theatre background. Her philosophy is to create theatre that shows how we can be together. “I don’t believe there is a strong delineation between theatre and life. The more we can involve creativity as part of our everyday lives the better the opportunities for learning, for better health, and for better relationships.” This focus made Ajita Cannings an ideal facilitator for this play.
The excitement, joy and sense of achievement of the performers, and the appreciation and pride of the support staff and the families and friends who attended made for a captivating and entertaining event. It took a small village to make this play and put it on, a small village of insiders who already believe that arts have a role to play in health and well-being of people with disabilities.
At the recently held 6th Annual International Arts and Health Conference in Melbourne, plenary speaker Mike White from the UK offered these observations; “It was invigorating to step through an arts in health conference that is not obsessed with the evidence base for art as an ancillary treatment…” And particularly appropriate to the outcome of this project, “What appears to be missing, however, is a focus on workforce development and the role of education in embedding arts in health through the life course.”
What Mike White is implying is that it is the responsibility and role of the whole larger village, of all of us to not only promote the message but also to actively engage in such play that includes everyone in creative and healthy living.
I hope Multitask and Ajita Cannings can continue to develop this creative playmaking project next year. And that more of the village get to share in the raucous fun.