New Royal South Street showcase brings disability focus to Ballarat stage

An addition to Ballarat’s long-running performing arts competition is creating opportunities for people of all abilities to get up on stage.

Royal South Street ran its All Abilities Performing Arts showcase for the first time on Monday, with former Choir of Hard Knocks director Jonathan Welch as special guest adjudicator.

Ballarat Specialist School students and Melba Support Services arts program participants performed music, dance and creative acts throughout the day, with supporters there to cheer them on.

Performer Liam Abery said he loved seeing everyone in the room having fun and enjoying being back performing together after the difficulty of isolation during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Fellow performer Joel Gills said it was exciting to be able to showcase what he had worked on throughout the year.

“It really means a lot to be able to put ourselves out there and show our stuff at Royal South Street which is a highly anticipated competition,” he said.

It is awesome to be here,” he said.

Meeting modern needs
The Royal South Street Eisteddfod has been running annually in Ballarat since 1891, with the only cancellations being during World War II and the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Welch said he loved seeing people being given the opportunity to get up on stage and do what they loved.

“Time and time again you just see when people are given the opportunity and when they are supported well and given the opportunity to build their skills, they shine,” he said.

Mr Welch directed the Choir of Hard Knocks, a community choir for people who have experienced homelessness or disadvantage, until 2019.

The group was first introduced to the public in 2006 through an ABC television series.

Mr Welch said he felt “joyous” seeing the Royal South Street All Abilities performances, which aligned with his past 20 years of work in inclusive performing arts.

“Music is a universal language,” he said.

“It brings us together and allows us to connect with people in a way that is difficult to do just through the spoken word.

“It is a great celebration today of inclusion and for them being able to express themselves through their music and dance performances.”

Equal recognition for artists
Melba Support Services art practitioner Akasha Temple said it was important for people with a disability to be recognised as artists.

“My friend Joel has been singing in choirs for over 20 years,” she said.

“Maria who is here today has been performing since she was child.

“We need to recognise these guys and change society’s attitude to respect their art, to respect them as a tribe and a complicated culture, not the lesser.”

Ms Temple said performing arts was a big part of life, family and expression for the performers in the room.

She referred to one of her students who cried tears of joy after performing a dance routine that was choreographed especially for her electric wheelchair.

“That was a massive achievement for her,” she said.

Plans to continue
Royal South Street Society business operations manager Tennille McLauchlan said the showcase was introduced to acknowledge every performer.

She said it would continue to be a “special part” of the eisteddfod in the years to come.

It was clear that performers such as Jenna Rathgeber would be back again next year.

“It feels really good and I enjoy it,” she said.

“I want people to enjoy the performances and have fun. It is not about winning, we all enjoy it and have fun.”