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January 6, 2020 | Theatre,

Introducing Back to Back Theatre

Later this month, ArtsEmerson will welcome our first production from Australia with The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes (JAN 23-26) from Back to Back Theatre. Based in Geelong — 75 km from Melbourne — Back to Back Theatre has brought together an ensemble of actors who have intellectual disabilities. However, their content extends beyond the preconceived notions of general audiences and dives into the philosophical, personal, and political at the intersection of humanity.

Founded thirty years ago, Back to Back Theatre has produced nine groundbreaking shows, all of them addressing the unaddressed and asking audiences to question the assumptions of what is possible in theatre, but also assumptions about ourselves and others. While the ensemble is comprised of individuals with varying disabilities, the work never rests on those narratives, but rather uses them to bring about larger conversations about society and beyond.

A production photo from The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes. A woman stands on the left gesturing to a group of three men sitting in chairs on the right. Above them is a screen that reads "We don't speak a different language."
The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes
Photo by Jeff Busby

In an interview with BBC News, Artistic Director Bruce Gladwin states, “our objective is to make the best art possible” and “that the actors are seen as professional artists and are paid for their work.” Back to Back is not interested in the Hollywood-glorified narratives of overcoming a disability in order to achieve great feats. Rather, theatre stands by the idea, “art needs to come first, disability second,” as stated by performer Scott Price, who has autism and Tourette’s Syndrome.

Back to Back Theatre’s advocacy within the arts has revolutionized the conversation in Australia and has become one of the preeminent theatre companies within the country. In 2013, a book was published about Back to Back’s founding, history, and future, including the impact they have made in theatre-making. ‘We’re People Who Do Shows’: Back to Back Theatre — Performance, Politics, and Visibility edited by Helena Grehan and Peter Eckersall provides insights from the company itself, as well as the larger theatre and activist communities. With excerpts from scripts, interviews, scholarly essays, and artistic insights, it is “a book for many people, at once accessible and erudite, intimate and esoteric, illuminatingly edited, illustrated and designed,” (Keith Gallasch, RealTime Arts).

The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes continues in the tradition of Back to Back’s innovation, taking on the topic of artificial intelligence. Positioned as a community meeting between several individuals with intellectual disabilities, the performers discover a history they would prefer not to know and an ambivalent future, begging the question: Who precisely is the fittest to survive in the age of AI?

ArtsEmerson is proud to welcome this revolutionary theatre company to Boston and we hope you will join us for The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes (JAN 23-26) as we engage with and continue to delve into the basis of art and own humanities.

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