Andi Snelling is an award-winning performer, writer and theatre-maker living with Lyme disease and co-infections. Last year, she received an Arts Access Australia Travel Grant to attend Meeting Place, a forum hosted by Arts Access Australia for artists with disability. Andi loves tea, baths and being alive! Her favourite thing to do is smile.
Inform caught up with Andi to discuss her work, the importance of forums like Meeting Place and how her disability informs her performances.
How did you get into preforming?
I think I was just always accidentally performing: creating choreographies as a child and making little videos as a teenager. I used to move buttons about on a table as if they were on a stage, creating different formations and patterns. I grew up dancing and always landed the comedy roles.
Although I didn’t actually recognise it until I finally went to drama school in my mid-20s, I was clearly always performing in one way or another and it was pretty inevitable that this is where I’d end up. At my recent 20 year high school reunion, no-one was surprised to hear my career was acting, even though it surprised me initially!
Any particularly memorable gigs?
So many. I’ve been lucky enough to do such a wide variety of jobs across many different performing genres around the world: from performing in a musical on London’s West End, to playing Edith in Picnic at Hanging Rock for BBC Radio 4 (yes, I got to scream “Mirandaaaaa!”), to performing as Peppa Pig and Dora the Explorer (the only times in my life I’ve been celebrity-mobbed by 5 year-olds), to performing on a train in Germany for 3 months, to a recurring role on Neighbours, and being the voice of Qatar Airways’ in-flight entertainment and much, much more. Every gig has its quirks. But definitely, the most fulfilling have been my three solo shows – #DearDiary, Déjà Vu (And Other Forms of Knowing) and Happy-Go-Wrong. It’s been quite a ride so far.
You were a recipient of an Arts Access Australia Travel Grant to attend Meeting Place. What was the experience of attending like?
It was my first time attending Meeting Place and was a highlight of my year last year, without a doubt. The greatest thing it gave me was an instant environment of understanding, acceptance and inclusion like I hadn’t felt before.
Having an invisible illness/disability often means people do not take my situation as seriously as it needs to be taken. Meeting Place is a container for shared language, experience and damn good art! I met a lot of very talented artists and arts workers doing great things in our industry. It really spurred me on to take pride in my vastly changed body.
A personal highlight for me was being invited to speak on a panel about my solo show Happy-Go-Wrong and running a workshop as part of the incredible Crip the Stage program.
Why are events like Meeting Place important for cultural leaders, arts workers and artists with disability?
Because they are safe spaces for us to come together and really nut things out in – our voices can be truly heard and we can challenge each other too in areas where we may disagree. Disability is diversity incarnated and I find such events continue to wake me up to how differently all human bodies function and where our points of intersection and indeed, diversion lie. I also find these events are often important places for celebration of the incredible experiences and perspectives that artists with disabilities have to offer the world. They also show me that I can achieve much more than I thought I could due to my ongoing illness.
How has your experience with chronic illness impacted and/or influenced your work?
Having lived most of my life as a healthy, fully abled-bodied performer, there has been a definite transition period for me, in terms of learning how my artistic process can best support the needs of my illness. For several years, I had to stop performing altogether and these were very tough on my psyche.
But, slowly but surely, I found little ways to get back to creating and eventually, these little ways culminated in what is now my award-winning solo theatre work Happy-Go-Wrong.
What has surprised me most through all this has been how much my illness ‘limitations’ have, in fact, become new creative possibilities which I otherwise would not have discovered. I also believe I have a lot more depth and integrity in what I create; every word, every movement and every breath counts now like never before.
On the flip side, the reality is that I still often struggle to accept my circumstances and face tremendous barriers as an artist more so now, both physically and especially, financially. Majority of my life is still spent treating and managing Lyme disease and I sometimes despair that I may never be able to make the amount of art I wish to and in the ways I wish to. It’s a constant, ongoing obstacle course which I pull myself through and I try to keep reminding myself that what I have managed to achieve under such trying circumstances has been pretty incredible so far. I have a lot of hope.
Can you tell us about your 2019 Melbourne Fringe Festival Show, Happy-Go-Wrong?
Happy-Go-Wrong is a solo physical theatre odyssey which is a celebration of being alive. It explores my journey through Lyme disease using clowning, dancing, storytelling and a lot of verbal and visual metaphor. It is a deeply raw and personal show, but with universal themes of fate, mortality and resilience, which all humans experience to varying degrees.
The show premiered at Melbourne Fringe 2019, where it had a fully sold-out run and encore season and won an award. This was a powerful way to return to the stage for the first time in many years. The show has also been nominated for two Green Room Awards for Best Performer and Best Writing in the independent theatre category for 2019, which has very much blown my socks off.
I have also just returned from New Zealand Fringe 2020, where the show enjoyed beautiful full houses and won another award. My dream is to continue working on the show and touring it as far and wide as possible, as best as my health allows.
What inspired Happy-Go-Wrong?
My need to rescue myself from the darkest depths of despair during a time when it felt like my life was over due to Lyme disease. What has resulted is that the process of creating the show, as well as the show itself, has ended up playing a huge role in me turning my life around from the ground up. Art is powerful like that. I am very proud of what I have achieved as there was a lot of struggle along the way and the show very nearly didn’t happen many times over.
What are you working on next?
I am someone who is pretty much constantly creatively inspired so I have at least 10 show ideas swirling around my head! But, for now, I will continue to focus on Happy-Go-Wrong in terms of my theatre work. I do also have a book in the pipelines, which is a delightfully slow-burn project, something which my illness experience has taught me to embrace. I also hope to get back to doing plays again in the near future.
Learn more about Andi Snelling’s work at her website: www.andisnelling.com/
*Meeting Place is a forum hosted by Arts Access Australia that brings together local, national and international arts and cultural leaders, arts workers and artists with disability, to present, perform, discuss and debate the latest in access and inclusion in the arts.