Welcome to the companion website for kin • song: ode to disability ancestors. Here, you will find additional accessibility features, a curated gallery of artwork created for our production, and supplementary information about our process.
Please feel welcome to use this website in whatever way is best for you. If you encounter any barriers throughout your time here, please contact us so we can correct errors and provide this information in a more accessible format.
kin • song: ode to disability ancestors is produced by Texas Theatre and Dance and supported by a generous grant from the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Fine Arts Diversity Committee.
Throughout rehearsals, members of our ensemble created artwork and text to represent important moments in disability history. Together, their work forms a deck of twelve ancestor cards that archive a rich history of disability activism and artistry. We offer these ancestor cards as a tool to connect to disability ancestors in the past, to affirm current and emerging disability ancestors in the present present, and to imagine the flourishing of disability ancestors in the future.
To create these ancestor cards, we drew inspiration from disability activist Stacey Milbern’s “On the Ancestral Plane: Crip Hand Me Downs and the Legacy of Our Movement,” Stacey Milbern and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s “Crip Lineages, Crip Futures: A Conversation with Stacey Milbern” in Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, Matt Huynh and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s “The Crip Tarot” (curated by Mimi Khúk), and The Artist’s Literacies Institute and Adriene Jenik’s The Artist’s Grief Deck.
To access each card, select the image of your choice, or select from the following links: 1) “The Unknown” by Jazz Bell, 2) “A Brooding Welcome” by Jay Smith, 3) “The Crown of Alyssum” by Hannah Neuhauser, 4) “A Required, Desired Path” by Hannah Mendoza, 5) “The Messenger” by Frances Smith, 6) “Rebellion” by Madysen Criss, 7) “Death’s Rebirth” by Annie Clepper, 8) “Forget-Me-Not” by Bella Morgart, 9) “The Rose Bush” by Juliana Smith-Etienne, 10) “The Life Worth Living” by Victoria Vargas, 11) “Temperance,” by Melissa Elkins, 12) “the kin • song,” art by Alexis Riley, text by the ensemble.
All across the United States, thousands upon thousands of disabled people lie buried in state hospital cemeteries, their names unknown, graves unmarked, and remains unclaimed due to mental health stigma. kin • song: ode to disability ancestors is a digital performance ritual–a cybernetic seance–crafted in response to this injustice. Through monologue, dialogue, puppetry, song, and dance, we will join creative forces to call upon the ghosts of our disability ancestors, waking them from their unmarked graves to join us in an act of mourning, celebration and care. Here, in the sacred timespace of performance, we will name them, claim them and honor their brilliance, all before (finally) laying them to rest.
This devised production invites us to grapple with the long history of ableism in Austin, in Texas and in the United States. It demands that we answer that history, accepting a kind of responsibility to those who came before. Finally, it asks us to care for their memory and in that caring, dream a more just future.
To devise this production, our team spent time researching the history of disability and mental health care, broadly, and institutionalization, specifically. In addition to drawing on historical archives, performers also engaged their embodied archives, translating individual, familial, and cultural grief practices into mourning scores: gesture phrases enacted as a form of memorialization, marking both loss and celebration of life. We then took these mourning scores on the move, beginning at the Austin State Hospital Cemetery, processing by The University of Texas at Austin’s Intramural Fields, through The Triangle development, past the state hospital, and into Central Park, tracing, with performers’ bodies, the original geography of the Austin State Hospital campus. After re-membering the displaced cemetery and the current state hospital, performers reenacted these mourning scores in their individual spaces, each adorned with a memorial garland containing the names of current and former state hospitals located across the United States, effectively projecting the performance across time and space.
Throughout the process of creating kin • song, this project has transformed from a performance that engages disability to a practice that embraces disability. Crafted by disabled and non-disabled artists and mounted during the COVID-19 pandemic, kin • song not only provides an opportunity to reflect on the histories of isolation that permeate disability history; it also draws attention to the way performance has contributed to that isolation through inaccessible rehearsal and production practices. As we worked to identify and dismantle access barriers within our own process, we ultimately came to understand performance itself as a form of kinmaking–with our ancestors, with our ensemble, and now, we hope, with you. Ultimately, kin • song is not a single production; rather, kin • song exists wherever it is enacted. Will you join us in our song?