Opinion | 24 February 2016

All the world’s a stage for David

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A founding member of Rollercoaster Theatre, David Baker has an impressive weekly schedule. He has regular bookings for his work as a stilt walker and a balloon artist. He has commitments to a number of theatrical groups doing ensemble performance. He will also have two or three shifts working as an usher at the Melbourne Arts Centre. His workforce participation hasn’t come from Disability Employment Services, but from personal helpers and mentors in the arts and Victorian Technical and Further Education (TAFE) theatre courses.

David loves his engagement with theatre but it is hard, both physically and emotionally. He feels things deeply and occasional negative interactions cause him such stress that he can become agitated and intensely focused on the issue. At such times, he needs to talk things through with somebody who understands the huge effort it takes for him, as a person with an intellectual disability, to deal with so many different demands in the field that he loves. David also has significant hearing loss and is dependent on his BAHA (Bone Anchored Hearing Aid) for hearing – this needs constant attention to maintain good hygiene. His parents help with encouragement, scheduling, and business records management. These roles are vital, as is their support with his grooming and other features of personal care. One must be organized and look one’s best when working in the public eye.

David Baker

Dreaming of theatre

As a child David experienced bullying at both specialist and mainstream schools. At the age of eleven, he saw the musical, ‘Cats’, and fell in love with the theatre. After the show, he was able to meet the cast and look at the props, the sets and the mechanics of lighting and sound production. He decided he would like to work in theatre.

“Doing what?” asked his teacher.

“In the kiosk, selling lollies,” David replied.

“I think you could do a lot better than that,” his teacher observed, with some foresight, as it turned out.

And the rollercoaster begins!

As a young adult, David learnt about work through placements at a retail plant nursery, a child-care centre and a canteen, but he didn’t give up his dream of working in theatre. On completing his Certificate of Work Education, he was accepted into the Northern Metropolitan Institute of TAFE’s Ignition Theatre program, a unique course for people with disabilities. He was able to continue theatre making by becoming an ensemble member of Rollercoaster Theatre, a company formed in 2006 to provide opportunities for graduates of Ignition

In 2007 at the age of 24, David enrolled in the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) in Theatre Arts and Multimedia at Swinburne TAFE. With a lot of support, David then went on to complete a Diploma of Theatre Arts – where he learnt to walk on stilts. He also taught himself balloon art from books and the internet. From there he was able to become a street performer. As a sole trader with an Australian Business Number (ABN), he contracts to Event Central to regularly perform at community events.

In 2010, David secured a two year internship at Red Stitch Theatre experiencing all aspects of production work. He was the Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) for ‘The City’ by Martin Crimp and “The Laramie Project Ten Years Later,” this show was later remounted at the Fairfax Studio, Melbourne Arts Centre where David was again ASM.

In 2012 David was one of five Australians with disability selected for a Professional Development opportunity at the Unlimited UK Arts Festival in London. This festival was a showcase of the best of disability art from around the world.

In 2013 he was a member of the cast of “Casa Del Crip,” a pilot sit com about people with disabilities. The script was written by Sarah Barton, Madeleine Dyer, Daniel Mulvihill and the late Stella Young.

In 2013 David engaged with another disability arts mentorship opportunity – Arts Access Victoria’s Pathways program. With their support he attended an interview with the Melbourne Arts Centre and secured a job as an usher. He would recommend the program to others wanting a start in arts employment.

Considering his talent, one might look past his needs for support in the areas of personal care and organizational coordination. At present these functions are performed by his parents. Another significant obstacle to his independence is maintaining his BAHA (bone-attached hearing-aid) which he cannot manage without assistance. His parents, Ross and Sue, are concerned about how David will be supported in the future.

David and the NDIS

When the NDIS comes to  Melbourne in October 2018, even if David does not receive an NDIS individualised support plan , he will still be able to engage with his NDIS Local Area Coordinator (LAC) to get information and referrals to support him in building his independence.

At 32, David has his sights set on another goal. He wants to set up a theatre company composed entirely of people with disabilities. With adequate support to maintain his health and wellbeing and coordinate his enterprise, he will in a position to mentor others into arts’ employment.

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