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People: Taking The Stage

Amy Park

Taking The Stage 

By Amy Park

Kate Hood is so keen to see more people with disability working in the performing arts industry that she’s established her own disability-led theatre company, Raspberry Ripple Productions. 

The Sydney-based actor, writer, and director has performed in everything from the classics through to musicals for major theatre companies, and in commercial TV production during the 1980s and 90s, including a stint on the popular drama Prisoner.

In 2002, Kate was diagnosed with Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia, a neurological disease, impacting on her ability to walk, and leading to her becoming a full-time wheelchair user.

The change, Kate said, initially had her feeling like she had lost her sense of identity.

“Learning to live with a disability has taught me what it feels like not to belong,” she told Link. “It has also taught me about loss; loss of identity, work, friendship, love, and self-esteem.”

Kate’s passion and creativity needed a new focus for an industry that no longer seemed to have a place for her, and where she said she felt invisible. 

“There are not many characters on stage or on screen who have a disability, and when there is such a character, all too often they are played by an actor who is able-bodied,” she said.

“We see able-bodied actors portray a character with a disability far more often than we see someone with a disability cast in a show.

“If it is not okay for a white actor to portray a black character and ‘black-up’, then why do we allow able-bodied actors to ‘crip-up?

“In an ideal world, I would see people with a disability represented in all workplaces, but given my knowledge is in this industry, I’m doing what I can to make sure we’re represented in the arts.”

Determined to continue her career in the arts, Kate reinvented herself; working as a voice-over artist, an award-winning narrator of audio books, and recently landing the role of Maxine Cowper in TV soap Neighbours

“I would like to see the inclusion of characters with disability in more stories; I work in an industry that depends on stories for its very existence, and I think we need to start incorporating all variations of society on stage and on screen,” Kate said.

“And not just characters, but actors with a disability portraying those characters, and equity in the writing, producing, technical production and all elements of performance.”

In 2016 Kate established Raspberry Ripple, a theatre company that aims to create more work in the arts and performing industry for those living with disability. 

“Raspberry Ripple is part-advocacy and part creativity, but I think the two have melded together in my own world,” she said. “I’m passionate about creating a theatre space that depends on the work of people with a disability.”

Kate was the artistic director of Raspberry Ripple’s first show, Enunciations, and said the workshops in the lead-up to the show included actors with a disability, and actors who were able-bodied. 

“I think it was a really eye-opening experience, for all of us. Having a disability doesn’t make you the expert on disability, and so not only were the able-bodied actors having their eyes opened to new dimensions of story, but we were all learning about each other’s abilities, also.” 

Raspberry Ripple are working toward another performance for June of this year. 

“The impact of inclusion is far reaching, and we’re having an impact on actors, directors, writers, producers, and all technical aspects of production, as well as on our audiences,” Kate said.