A photo of London's Southbank Centre

Unlimited Festival: celebrating the art, theatre and music of disabled people

This month sees the return of the Unlimited Festival to the Southbank Centre in London. Now in its fifth year, the festival celebrates the work of disabled artists from across the world and in many different genres. In this blog disabled comedian Lee, aka Lost Voice Guy, previews his shows to go see when the festival starts on 6 September. 

In 2012, the Unlimited Festival was one of the highlights of the Cultural Olympiad and has aimed to showcase work from disabled artists, helping them reach new audiences and shift perceptions of disabled people.

As a stand up comedian without a voice (which explains my stage name of Lost Voice Guy), it was a honour to be asked to perform my latest show at the festival. In fact, when I was asked if I wanted to be involved, I jumped at the chance. Not only it is a great festival, it’s also in a beautiful venue in a fantastic city.

A poster for Lost Voice Guy's show with a carton version of Lee depicted
A poster for Lost Voice Guy’s show

I’m really looking forward to bringing my show, which is called ‘Disability For Dunces’ to the festival on Wednesday 7 September. As I write this blog, I’m performing it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and I can’t wait to take it to other parts of the country as well.

Some awkward questions

Basically, my show shines a light on the general public’s view of disability and shatters some of the perceptions that they may have. For example, I often get asked if I’m as clever as Stephen Hawking, if I really need all that benefit money, if I really can’t talk at all and if I can have relationships. And that’s usually just minutes after I have met the person asking me!

I’m not sure why people get so awkward around disabled people but they definitely do! I’m often getting asked if I really can talk after my gigs, because obviously pretending to be disabled for the sake of entertainment is perfectly acceptable?!

Some people even ask if I can have sex…as an opening question! For the record, I definitely can.Lost_voice_guy_2_BLOG_SCOPE

All of these questions are embarrassing for both of us. When I was asked some of them for the first time I was speechless.

Many people just see disabled people as being stupid or as a burden to society. Believe it or not, we’re not all benefit cheats and, yes, we are allowed a sense of humour as well. It’s almost as if we’re normal human beings!

It is the people who portray this evil image of us and those who choose to believe it that are the problem. There may be a serious message behind it, but my show pokes fun at the awkwardness that exists and let’s everyone have a laugh about it.

What to see at Unlimited Festival

Comedian Lee on stage
Lost Voice Guy in action on stage

Of course, ‘Disability For Dunces’ is only one show out of many that you can see during the week long festival. There is something for everyone. But if you want my advice, I would definitely recommend you check out Jess Thom on Tuesday 6 September.

Jess has Tourette’s Syndrome, a condition that makes her say ‘biscuit’ 16,000 times a day. Her show, Stand Up, Sit Down, Roll Over, is a work in progress from a comedian whose unique neurology makes it impossible for her to stay on script.

Meanwhile, on Saturday 10 September, disabled activist, actor and comedian Liz Carr has chosen the spectacular world of musical theatre as the backdrop to exploring the complex and controversial subject of assisted suicide in her new show Assisted Suicide: The Musical.

If comedy isn’t your thing, why not go to ‘Superhuman or Simply Human’, which is also on Saturday 10 September. At this event, they will be discussing whether disabled people have become an integrated part of mainstream media. With a constant focus on integration and an increasing presence of disabled actors, presenters and public figures in mainstream media, does disability still need to be highlighted as ‘something special’?

During the festival, you’ll also get the chance to view things such as a series of public artworks by Cameron Morgan which celebrates learning disability culture. Cameron is fascinated by popular culture, especially television, films and music from past decades. Working with iconic TV imagery from the 1930s onwards, the artist spent six months in Project Ability’s studio creating nine paintings that honour the past nine decades of television history.

And if you don’t trust my recommendations at all, you can choose from over 40 events on the Unlimited Festival website.

Disability For Dunces is performed on Wednesday 7 September at 8pm. Tickets are available on Southbank Centre’s website.