Bearbrass Asylum Orchestra is a musical folk trio. Its members Jess Kapuscinski-Evans, Anthea Skinner and Tim Hackett all have disabilities. The band formed in 2012 after being at Quippings one night, which is an irreverent multi-art form cabaret night about disability and sex in Melbourne. With original compositions as well as cover tracks, their lyrics cover issues of love, sex, disability, death and British mythology. The music covered is usually punk and rock songs stripped back to fit the folk genre.
Bearbrass is one of the names early settlers used when referring to Melbourne. Asylum references a history of people with disabilities being segregated and often being placed into unsuitable accommodation. And Orchestra is a tongue-in-cheek allusion to being a trio.
Anthea says their songs
challenge the stereotypes of what people with disabilities are capable of…our rights to think for ourselves, fall in love, have sex, drink to excess and make bad decisions, like any other adult. Content like this may be considered subversive and many of their shows are at music venues for adults. However, the band always tailors its music to its audience, including an upcoming family-friendly event in Federation Square.
Anthea is a classically trained musician who plays percussion in the band. Tim is the guitarist and has a 13-year background playing in evangelical bands. The two have been friends for years. They met Jess in 2011, who is the singer in the band. Jess is a theatre student who has written, directed and starred in community productions. She also created Theatre on Wheels an inclusive student group through Melbourne University that performs modern works and new takes of traditional plays. Jess is an advocate of diverse storytelling and authentic casting of people with disabilities.
Jess says she co-wrote
Welcome which is a song that challenges people to ‘look at the world from the point of view of people with a disability’.
It was important to write 'Welcome' because there have been many movies/public appearances by celebrities where an able-bodied person would pretend to have a disability for a short period of time, and then go back to being their able-bodied selves afterwards.
Basically I wanted to write something that was saying that a lot of the really bad things about having a disability are things that you wouldn't be able to appreciate just by simply going around in a wheelchair for a week, things like discrimination and fighting with governments to get more money or having people look at you funny saying inappropriate things to you.
Jess says although the song speaks about more challenging and personal aspects of disabilities, it works to be educational rather than play into two common stereotypes of disability,
superhero or victim.
Welcome will be the theme song for radio 3CR’s International Day of People with Disability celebrations next Tuesday.
The song’s video also won the band won the Judges Choice Documentary Category in the NOVA employment short film competition. NOVA is a supported employment service for people with disabilities or for those who experience hardships or barriers to working.
Bearbrass Asylum Orchestra is now the house band at Quippings, held every second month at the Hares & Hyenas bookstore in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy. The next Quippings event is on 30 November. Upcoming performances include the 3CR International Day of People with Disability Special at Federation Square on 3 December and Strumarama at the Prince Wales Hotel in St Kilda on 11 December.