Austin & Kohn

Informed Consent in the rehearsal room – ethics, agency and performance making with extraordinary young minds.

Sarah Austin
VCA, University of Melbourne

Chris Kohn
VCA, University of Melbourne

Ethical considerations of working with people with an intellectual disability as part of collaborative art-making practices can be complex, multi-dimensional and contingent. This is further problematised when participants include children with intellectual disabilities. This potentially fraught space calls for careful consideration of a range of factors at play – differential access to power, institutional hierarchies, complex inter-subjective relations, tensions between aesthetic ideals and social outcomes. While these factors can be argued to exert a force in all acts of creative collaboration, work involving children with intellectual disabilities calls for greater ethical know-how.

In academic research, ethics are maintained through “informed consent”, an orthodoxy which provides a useful framework, if no ready-made solutions. In the context of creative art-making, there is no such formalised ethical framework.

Theatre Practitioners Sarah Austin and Chris Kohn are both currently PhD candidates at the Victorian College of the Arts researching aesthetic and ethical intersections between arts and disability.

From the perspective of the practising artist-researcher, and through analysis of their own practices, these artists will deliver two very different papers, each exploring their own practice in relation to “informed consent”, ethical relations, theatre-making and intellectual disability. These papers will ask how might the notion of “informed consent” be borrowed from the academy to inform and enact an ethics of engagement with children with intellectual disabilities in artistic settings? And conversely, how might the understanding and application of “informed consent” in research be advanced by considering the praxes developed by working artists and organisations through years of experience, negotiation, trial, error and success? Can an inclusive arts practice provide strategies outside of traditional understandings within the academy of ethics and research?

Sarah Austin is a theatre director, researcher and curator whose works spans an interest in live and participatory art and visual theatre. She has predominantly created work with and for children and young people. At present she is a Research Fellow on an ARC Linkage project exploring the aesthetics of disability art at the University of Melbourne, a Board member of Theatre Network Australia and a jury member of the Green Room Awards Panel. She was Artistic Director of St Martins Youth Arts Centre (2008-2014). She is a PhD candidate at the Victorian College of the Arts and her research examines the creative and aesthetic strategies of artists with a disability.

Chris Kohn is a theatre director, dramaturg and PhD candidate at the Victorian College of the Arts, researching the nexus between collaborative theatre creation, ethics and intellectual disability. Since 2000 has has been the founding Artistic Director of Stuck Pigs Squealing Theatre and has also been Artistic Director of Arena Theatre Company (2008-12) and La Boite Theatre Company (2014). He was the inaugural Theatre Diversity Associate for the Australia Council and Arts Queensland in 2012-14, working with Queensland theatre and arts organisations to develop greater opportunities for professional and emerging artists from diverse cultural backgrounds. He was a 2012 Sidney Myer Creative Fellow, and recipient of a George Fairfax Award, Malcolm Robertson Award, Green Room Award for Directing and Writing and creative residencies at Les Couvent des Recollet in Paris and the State Library of Victoria. He is currently engaged in an Artist Residency at Nelson Park School for children with intellectual disabilities.