BAM Arts Inc. is rehearsing one of their performances, ‘Bad Ballet’, for the Melbourne Fringe Festival. It’s fun, colourful and funny. Students are not just performing, they’re doing costumes, props, and even running the café. The students, teachers and volunteers discuss the show, give instructions, and use terms and instructions that would be familiar to any arts organisation. There’s no special method because the participants are disabled.

Founder Lisa Murphy says, “That’s very much at the core of what we do. We don’t think disability first; we think performance or activity first and whatever disability the person has is very much secondary. You treat people as people, and you get to know them, and as you form relationships with them, you understand what their learning strategies might be or how best to connect with people. It’s not about the disability. It’s about the person.”

Lisa formed BAM as a response to her son Buster’s desire to perform, and it was originally a dance class. Now it covers the whole spectrum of performing and visual arts. BAM originally stood for Bust A Move, but that was taken, so BAM Arts it was. ‘I think we have to develop our own opportunities because it is so far from the city, where there are lots of fabulous things, but it’s just too far to go, so these things spring up out of a need,’ says Lisa.

Buster, who is twenty-four now and has Down syndrome, has a love for performance. Lisa says, “When he was in primary school, it was really obvious that he wanted to dance and be up on stage, so I was looking for something for him, and there wasn’t anything at that stage that would suit him. So I had the idea to get something going. I thought if I could find a dance teacher and a few other interested people, we could start a little dance class. So that’s how it started – and over the last twelve years, it’s grown!”

Buster is still very much involved and does music, dance, filmmaking and radio, which BAM also teaches. BAM does a show every Friday at Radio Carrum, and there’s podcasting along with that.

BAM affects students in a very concrete way. As Lisa says, “It gives them somewhere to go – something to do – a reason to get up. We all need that reason to get out of bed in the morning and something to look forward to, but it also provides a really strong social community. They are mixing with people who have a disability and who have a shared interest in performance or art or whatever it is they come to BAM for.

So I think we’re providing that social connection, which is not something that I’d ever thought of when we started. I didn’t have a grand plan or a big vision – it’s just unfolded. We can’t believe how far it’s come from that initial little dance class.”

BAM does an annual performance at Frankston Arts Centre, their biggest performance of the year, and includes all of the students – dance, drama, costume making, filmmaking groups and the choir. Each year the Music Theatre Group puts on a pantomime, and Wild Theatre participates in the Melbourne Fringe Festival. The arts group participates in various art shows and has an exhibition in Cube 37. They also put on shows in their own studio, which BAM would love to share with other performing groups on the Peninsula.

Recently BAM hosted a forum with local member Peta Murphy, inviting local theatre groups to look at their studio. Lisa says “You’re welcome to use this space. Let’s see how we can work together. There aren’t a lot of smaller theatre spaces on the Peninsula that have the capacity to run music and audio and so on, and we’d love to embrace the community and for the community to embrace us.”

BAM loves to perform with other arts groups. Other community organisations are encouraged to book performers from BAM for their events. “We have a great big troupe of people who love nothing more than being on stage, so we always welcome those opportunities to perform,” Lisa says.

The organisation is growing, and Lisa sees Hampton as the next hub with its own studio. They are keen to train students and employ them – for the café, as ushers, set designers and prop makers.

BAM loves volunteers. If you have a skill, whether it’s performance, costumes, filmmaking, photography, or any of those creative skills, BAM would love you to help. If you could run a workshop to teach the students something new, that would be welcome. Lisa says, “We work on role-modelling; it’s really about getting up and having fun, so people who can role-model the dances are really great, and we always look for people who are interested in people. It doesn’t matter how technically good you are, we want you to connect with our people because a lot of it is about friendship and communication.”

Donations of film equipment, costumes and funds are also welcome. In their newer studio, BAM desperately needs a bathroom renovation to put in a disability-accessible bathroom.

BAM is now a full-time job for Lisa. “It’s just fun, and whatever you do in life, it needs to be fun, and it’s also purposeful. You can see that it’s making a difference.”

Asked what she does in her downtime, Lisa laughs and wryly says “I have no idea. I do love walking along the beach.”

To join, volunteer or donate, go to BAM Arts Inc. website.

By Muriel Cooper Photos Yanni

Peninsula Essence – October 2023