A Fierce Kind of Love Q&A with Tenara Calem
We sat down with Audience Engagement Coordinator Tenara Calem to chat about connecting and engaging communities around A Fierce Kind of Love, March 1—3 at FringeArts, as part of High Pressure Fire Service.
FringeArts: Can you start by telling us a bit about A Fierce Kind of Love (AFKoL)?
Tenara: Sure. The show is about the history of the intellectual disabilities rights movement specific to Pennsylvania. It started out of research that the Institute of Disabilities was doing in 2012. And they learned a lot from mothers of folks who have intellectual disabilities and were institutionalized. Pulling at that thread revealed so much information about the movement for self-advocacy and they realized that sharing those stories in a performance medium was a really incredible vehicle to communicate the themes of the show, which is all about love, acceptance, and building a more just world that is inclusive and designed universally for everyone to enjoy it.
FringeArts: What about the accessibility of the performance itself?
Tenara: It’s a mixed ability ensemble. So accessibility is baked into the conceit and design of the show, so all of the performances are ASL interpreted, have audio description for folks who are blind or have low vision. There’s sensory seating, accessible seating, and closed captioning. It really is a unique piece and we are really lucky to have it here at Fringe.
FringeArts: In your role as Audience Engagement Coordinator, can you tell us a bit about your process in beginning with AFKoL?
Tenara: I always start my conversation with the artist. So, I’m very lucky at FringeArts that the pieces are brand new and that they are being created by artists that are in the room and get to have conversations with me. Not every person gets to do that. With AFKoL specifically I feel very lucky to be working so close with Lisa Sonneborn who is the Director of Media Arts at the Institute on Disabilities. She’s an amazing collaborative partner. She really really understands and practices a community engaged approach to her art-making so that all of the work that is being done to cultivate an audience that is going to resonate really strongly with the material has the flavor of “not about us without us”.
FringeArts: Where did your early conversations take you about engaging with different communities?
Tenara: I mean, AFkoL is a very interesting project because it’s already made with community performers. So it’s very involved and engaged in that way on its own. But Lisa and Suli [Holum] and David [Bradley] were really excited by the idea of locating where AFKoL performs not as well, which is with the physical disability community. Unfortunately the physical and the intellectual disability rights movements are very separate. And there are a lot of reasons for that and some of them are really arbitrary and some of them are by design of institutions of power who are holding all the funding. So Lisa and David and Suli were particularly excited by using the opportunity to create community engagement with this show that tried to bridge that gap and try to include folks of physical disabilities and those activists into the conversation of the piece so we could maybe create a more comprehensive discussion about disability rights movements at large.
So we got a bunch of folks into a room and had an open forum.
FringeArts: What came out of these conversations?
Tenara: We proposed to them an idea we had to develop a timeline of the Disability rights movement that included both the physical and intellectual disability activists and that was basically placed somewhere where there was a lot of natural foot traffic so it would accomplish a number of goals. It would create more visibility for the play at FringeArts. And it would also engage a really high volume of people on the themes. The activists at Liberty Resources and ADAPT, and Disability Equality in Education, they got super excited about the idea and said they would create the content for the timeline if you guys worry about the production and installation. So that’s what happened!