A Story I’d Have Liked to Hear in Rent Party

by Iqra Saeed

In my interview with Teddy/Edward Smith, one of the cast members of Rent Party, he talked a lot about his involvement in Pride. I don’t have much of a relationship with Pride because the events tend to be crowded and loud, and environments such as this are not straightforward to navigate when mobility is limited.

Peterborough Pride 2021 was held on Cathedral Square, an area just outside of Queensgate shopping centre, which is Peterborough’s main shopping centre. As part of the event there was an opportunity to take part in a parade through central Peterborough. Pride being a summer event means that the weather is much more pleasant. However, keeping warm is harder for someone whose movement is restricted or cannot regulate temperature due to conditions such as Fibromyalgia (a condition which can be invisible for some).

A map of the parade shows the 10-minute walk beginning at the Key Theatre – which is where Peterborough’s Rent Party was played – and ending at Cathedral Square where performances took place after the parade. The map does not specify if the route is step-free or wheelchair accessible. There is a key on the left of the map which includes symbols of restaurants and toilet facilities. But on the map, the universal disabled symbol appears in a few different places. Not being included on the key leads me to wonder whether it is referring to parking or accessible toilet facilities. Including symbols is simply not enough and this makes it harder to plan and attend. No access details or welcoming of carers or companions adds to a lack of inclusive language.

Although the message behind the parade carries significance, it overlooks the needs of those for whom getting around or being outdoors is more challenging. Events spreading an inclusive message which some attend only to find out that they cannot be included, could be considered to be defeating the purpose.

Stories of self-discovery were prominent in Rent Party. But the cast for Rent Party did not include anyone who was visibly disabled. If there had been a disabled cast member or an all-disabled cast, the stories could have been very different to the ones presented, and the nature, message, and purpose of the show may have been very different.

Someone who lives with their family and relies on them for day-to-day care can be under pressure to hide who they are. Being disowned or kicked out is traumatic and heart-breaking. But if you aren’t physically able to get to safety, require help to eat or complete personal care tasks it can mean hiding who you are for a lifetime.

As individuals we all are entitled to privacy but what if the level of privacy in your life is reduced due your complex needs. Socialising platonically or romantically can also mean needing help to travel. This means that for many disabled and queer people, socialising of both kinds is limited and for some it is completely out of the question. 

These issues are very similar to the ones addressed by the LGBT+ cast of Rent Party. However, the cast did not include anyone who was visibly disabled – and having this story told from the perspective of a disabled person would have expanded the viewpoint in vital ways.