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Artist Features

I Am YEG Arts: Alison Neuman

June 27, 2024

Photo by Kaylee Bee

Alison Neuman is a disabled dancer, choreographer, playwright and author. Through her many projects, Alison focuses on building opportunities where individuals of all abilities can learn and create, and difference is celebrated. In this week’s I Am YEG Arts story, Alison tells us about the narratives that drive her stories, what it was like to present new work at the Sprouts New Play Festival for Kids, and how CRIPSiE has played an important role in her artistic journey.

As a storyteller (through your writing and choreography), what narrative or inspiration do you find yourself drawn to?

I’m drawn to people’s stories and what drives them to make their choices. From the outside, it is sometimes hard to understand why some people make their choices until you glimpse what has led up to that moment. My characters pull inspiration for their choices from my life, observations from the lives around me, or news stories. In my YA novel, Ice Rose: A Young Adult Spy Novel, Elissa knows the reasons her dad is missing are more than anyone is telling her and goes to a secret agent school he attended to find the answers. In my musical Enough, Breanna has a choice to change and fit into where the world wants her or to be herself and build a place in the world. I hope that through my characters, the audiences and readers can journey with the characters to understand their choices and maybe connect.

Tell us about how you spotlight underrepresented voices and build community through your work.

When creating theatre and choreography, I love to collaborate with a variety of artists and build connections while bringing their stories to the stage. When I’m working on a play I infuse those stories into the characters, so it’s based on them. I love when we can build a community within projects because we end up being friends and getting to work together and hang out after. 

What’s one piece of advice you wish you’d had when starting out? 

I wish that someone had told me to create your own path when creating your art rather than following what other artists have done ahead of you to build their careers. 

You recently presented a new work at the Sprouts New Play Festival for Kids. Tell us about the work and the experience of participating in the festival. 

My play is called Lucy, and it is about a girl using a mobility device who wants to take an in-person tap class. She tries to fit in at the tap class but realizes that being herself is what’s going to make her succeed. 

The Concrete Theatre/​Sprouts team were amazing because I cannot attend full day events, and they made it so that I could attend over Zoom, so I was able to pop in and out and see the rehearsal process, which was amazing. I even got to work with a local dramaturg who helped me to work on building my characters and explore how interactive theatre can be with children. And then I went to an actual reading and the children were so focused on the characters and the play! When [the actors] would ask them to clap or repeat something they were so excited and so present in the moment, and it was absolutely magical to be in that space and to watch those children who may have been there for the first time to a piece of theatre. I hope that they came out of it thinking, oh, I want to go again, or oh, I want to be on that stage one day.

The festival is such a wonderful introduction to theatre for children, which I think is so important. When I was a kid, the magic was what got me hooked. It was amazing to be included in that and have something I’d worked on as a part of someone’s first time in the theatre. 

Photo by Ainsley Hillyard

Tell us about your role with CRIPSiE and what makes it special to you and the city.

I’ve been a part of the inclusive dance community for 14 years and CRIPSiE for 11. That time in the community, it’s made the arts not only accessible, but fun. It’s made me the dancer, choreographer and artistic producer that I am today through their classes, mentorship and other artistic opportunities. 

Currently I’m the Co-Artistic Producer at CRIPSiE (the full name is the Collaborative Radically Integrated Performers Society in Edmonton) and I’m so lucky to work with an incredible leadership team, the Artistic Associates and the steering committee. We create activities based on the feedback from the community and the support of our funders. 

CRIPSiE is unique to the city because it’s an inclusive community that prioritizes visible and invisible disability, but it welcomes everyone 18 years of age and over to join us. We love it when we get new people to come and spend time with us and dance or participate in projects we’re working on. Our activities are arts focused, and we work to have our activities and spaces accessible for everybody that’s in this space. For instance, if they need an ASL interpreter or live transcription or if they need special transportation to come out, we have an accessibility fund so they can come out and enjoy themselves, no matter what they need. It’s a special place and again, it’s not just for people with disabilities, it’s for everybody; they can come hang out and have fun with low pressure. If you can’t do something that’s ok – if it’s an arm movement that you can’t do, you can use your foot, you can use your eyes, you can use your head or you can just sit and watch; that’s cool too! We just would love to have people in the space. 

We’re having a membership drive in the summer, so if people want more information, they can check out our website at CRIP​SiE​.com.

How did you get started in dance?

I got started when I was a child, and I was not disabled then – I was fairly healthy and just had arthritis – and I took jazz dance through the community classes, and I absolutely loved it. I would come home, and I was hurting and exhausted, but so happy. I had an awesome teacher; I couldn’t get down on the floor, so she had me doing stuff standing up when everybody else was on the floor. We did the competition circuits, and it was just lovely, but then when I had to use a wheelchair, there just wasn’t room. So unfortunately, I had to let that go. And then in 2010, I found I Dance Edmonton and started going to classes there. They were fabulous because all they could see was the possibility of the art and what you could do versus what you’ve been told you couldn’t do and how you didn’t fit in. I got to dance with a bunch of amazing people who also love dancing. Some of them were using mobility devices too, some of them weren’t, some of them didn’t fit in a regular dance class because of their size, etc. Many of us became really good friends thanks to meeting in those classes. It took me a while, but I was so happy to find a space to dance again, because I really missed that. 

Tell us a little about what you’re currently working on or hoping to explore next.

At the current moment I’m working on building a creative team. I wrote this musical called Enough and I’m trying to find a festival or somewhere where we can get it to the stage so Edmontonians can see it. It’s about a girl again with a disability and my goal is to be able to have as many people as possible who are experiencing disability or marginalized, not only playing the characters, but also in the production team behind the scenes.

I’m also working on the first draft of my second memoir, which is coming along slowly. And I’ve had a few ideas for my next choreography piece. One day I’d like to sit down and write those out before the inspiration vanishes. And I look forward to being able to be in the space working with people. Writing is a very solitary thing. I love writing plays and I love writing books, but there’s something about being in the space with someone, even if it’s just through Zoom, versus being all by yourself behind a computer. I find being able to collaborate is a very exhilarating and awesome experience, and whenever I get the chance, I love to do it.

About Alison Neuman

Alison Neuman is a writer, author, choreographer, dance artist, and playwright who is passionate about sharing underrepresented voices and building communities. She has a Master’s Degree with an Educational Studies focus, Bachelor of Applied Communications Degree, a Diploma in Professional Writing, and a Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing.

As the lead writer and an instructor at Sandy Tree Communications, Alison creates business communications, technical documents, and curriculum that bring her clients and learners results. She is most proud of the projects that connect and support the community. Her own projects and writing reflect her belief that we are all better and stronger when we are inclusive and celebrate one another.

Alison’s artistic focus is to build opportunities where individuals of all abilities can learn and create, and difference is celebrated. Her goal is to lift artists to their full potential and share the voice of the marginalized that are rarely heard or seen. Her hope is artists will see someone like them on a stage or recognize themselves in a book and know there is a place for them in the arts.