Woonona’s Susan Wallis doesn’t focus on what her daughter Gracie can’t do – she focuses on her strengths.
So when she was asked if Gracie, 11, could star in a film project that highlighted those strengths – and her love of life – Mrs Wallis grabbed the opportunity.
The Para Meadows student was among a number of Illawarra residents who took part in the Blue Rose project.
A collaboration between Beyond Empathy and Merrigong Theatre Company, the project explores the experience of those who use non-verbal communication as their way to interact with the world.
On Thursday, visitors to the interactive film installation at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre were able to enjoy a unique sensory experience.
Shadows, light, textures, images, music and movement were used to engage and excite.
‘’The Blue Rose project was primarily a film project looking at the world through the eyes of people with disabilities,’’ Mrs Wallis said.
‘’However some of those involved couldn’t experience film the way many of us do, like Gracie who has cortical vision impairment. By making it an interactive installation she gets to see her film in a way she can comprehend.
‘’Her favourite installation was in the cocoon where the pictures of her were projected on the netting.’’
For Mrs Wallis, the scene in the film where Gracie – who has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and severe intellectual disability – interacts with her sister Sophie is the most cherished.
‘’It highlights the incredible connection they have – how they communicate without words,’’ she said.
‘’For our family, these images and the memories they capture are priceless.’’
Shellharbour mother Melissa Smith is also proud of her daughter Lili’s part in the project.
Lili, 12, has a rare brain disorder and respiratory condition but enjoys mainstream school with her siblings.
‘’We have fought hard for her to live as normal a life as possible and focus on her abilities and that’s the reason we came onboard with this project because it was about celebrating all abilities,’’ Ms Smith said.
Beyond Empathy spokesman Phillip Crawford encouraged visitors to enjoy the interactive experience, which will again be on at IPAC on Friday from 9.30am to 5.30pm.
‘’Adults and children alike will enjoy the chance to make music by moving their hands or body in front of an invisible beam, go travelling in a virtual cockpit, or relax in a sensory cocoon,’’ he said.
The Beyond Empathy team has enlisted the expertise of award-winning lighting, interaction and video designer Toby Knyvett, whose body of work includes pieces for the Sydney Opera House and the Vivid Festival as well as Merrigong.
Merrigong Theatre Company artistic development manager Leland Kean said it offered people a unique way to look at film.
‘’We have a real commitment to working with people with intellectual and physical disabilities, and this was a unique opportunity to use our spaces in a very different way for the community,’’ he said.
Mr Crawford said the project had been a professional, and personal, one.
‘’My older sister is non-verbal and people don’t have any idea how to make a connection with her, so she often just gets ignored,’’ he said.
‘’We all started out communicating without words but seem to then lose that ability. Through this project, we wanted to do something to reopen some of those doors to communication.’’
The project was supported by organisations including The Cram Foundation and The Disability Trust as well as Interchange Illawarra.
Mrs Wallis is president of the latter organisation, as well as mother to one of the project’s stars.
‘’We encourage everyone to come along and gain insight, connection, and understanding into the lives of people who may be different to themselves,” she said.
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