Caroline Bowditch has loved performing since childhood when she would throw open the curtains shielding her grandparent’s bay windows to put on a show.
‘I think as a person with a visible disability, I'm always performing, whether someone's bought a ticket or not. I'm constantly under surveillance or observation,’ says Caroline, who uses a wheelchair.
‘I can't control what people do in the street, how they react, what they say to me, but when I'm on stage, I am in control.
I can't control what people think or feel, but what I can do is present the fact that we are all human and we all have similar desires and needs and wants.’
Caroline studied performance at university, but it wasn’t until she was 26 and took an inclusive dance program that she began to truly consider a career as a performer.
‘It was really the first time that I felt like I'd landed in my skin, and that what I'd grown up thinking was a strangely awkward body actually had lots of really fascinating things about it and it moved in a way that other bodies didn't.
‘That was an incredibly empowering thing to discover and, once I found it, I never wanted it to stop.’
After moving from Melbourne to the UK in 2002, Caroline found more opportunities for performers with disabilities, including an inclusive arts grants program that stipulated a minimum grant of £50,000.
‘What those huge amounts of money did was they allowed people to expect greatness and dream big,’ Caroline says.
The impact was profound. ‘By investing real money in it, the bar was raised for deaf and disabled artists and the really interesting thing is that artists not only met that, but they exceeded it.’
Caroline has choreographed, performed and created works that have toured internationally, has helped found performance companies and has worked as an accessibility and inclusivity consultant. Since becoming the CEO of Arts Access in 2018, she has realised that there is a growing demand and interest in a more inclusive arts scene.
‘We have become very conditioned to seeing lots of white non-disabled people on our stages and I think we are now in a time where people aren't interested in that anymore. People know that there are different and more authentic stories to be told.’
Watch Caroline's 2020 Victorian Seniors Festival reimagined performance.