A Tender Thing. Written and directed by Heidi Silberman and Ali Clinch. Rebus Theatre. Ralph Wilson Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre, 55 Ainslie Avenue, Braddon. December 6 and December 7 at 7pm, December 8 at 4pm. rebustheatre.com.
How do people with a disability experience romantic love?
Rebus Theatre's newly devised production, A Tender Thing, explores this subject. Inspired by Romeo and Juliet, - from which play the title comes - the show has been written and directed by Heidi Silberman and Ali Clinch in collaboration with the cast of seven mixed-ability actors whose live with, among other things, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and mental health issues.
The show - which has been in development and rehearsal for five months - combines elements of scripted work, improvisation, physical theatre and dance to delve into love, dating and marriage making use of the performers' own experiences, feelings and thoughts
Silberman says A Tender Thing is in the form of a series of scenes that examine questions and issues in various ways. One is about whether Romeo and Juliet should have fallen in love or not, given what resulted. In another, a woman presents a dating video.
"It's about what the character wants and what she has to offer."
The balcony scene from Shakespeare's play is given a twist: the "Juliet" is in love not with Romeo but with movie star Orlando Bloom, based on the actor's own experience.
"It's exploring the idea of the love you have for someone you don't know, fantasising about him."
Another actor who will be getting married next year explores her feelings about the upcoming experience on stage.
Silberman says she hadn't directed since high school - "a very long time ago" and A Tender Thing was "a steep learning curve for me".
The collaboration with Clinch worked well, she says, with the latter doing a lot of the lighting design and technical work - such as designing a set that could accomodate wheelchairs on stage - while Silberman focused more on the performers.
"The thing that was challenging was people getting tired - we can't have a long day of rehearsal, it's too exhausting."
The intention behind A Tender Thing, like other productions from Rebus, is to explore ideas and social issues - but also to provide career paths for actors to move from Rebus's ongoing inclusive drama classes into professional work with the company.
Rebus was started in 2013 by Cara Matthews, Ben Drysdale and Robin Davidson as a mixed ability company using theatre for social change. Silberman says Rebus has started an Access All Areas program to improve communication between the people participating and professionals in the health and justice systems.
Silberman, "Canberra born and bred", studied education and was a high school teacher before motherhood - four children - took priority.
She says she gradually built a career in theatre as a performer, director and backstage worker.
"I have lots of jobs," she says - among them, being a clown doctor.
One of her theatrical roles was Oberon in Shakespeare by the Lakes' A Midsummer Night's Dream this year.
She's been involved with Rebus for three years and teaches inclusive drama there.
"I have lots of jobs," she says.
Silberman says working on A Tender Thing "was a great reminder that every human is different.
"We often put people in boxes they have to fit in but there are a lot of different learning styles: different people learn differently."