PACT, Sydney’s home of experimental and emerging theater, is gearing up for the second in its series of Salon events, this time with actress, writer, activist and all-round inspiring gem Emily Dash at the helm.

Dash is a well-regarded Australian creative force already well known for her collaborations with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Sydney Opera House. She’s also a Tropfest shortlisted filmmaker responsible for a number of shorts including The Milky Pop Kid, a funny but telling work that she co-wrote and co-starred in. The film explores the shitty but widespread phenomenon of able-bodied actors playing characters with disabilities, and screened at the Sydney Film Festival.

For PACT 2, Dash has pulled together a four hour mini-festival, one featuring a range of female artists who specialize in works that explore our collective sense of self and the clash of our differing perceptions. The program also draws to the fore oft-ignored voices, featuring older artists and those with disabilities (Dash herself has cerebral palsy) and mental illness. Just like Dash, the program is witty, inspiring and thought-provoking.

This is not Dash’s first dance with PACT either. Her initial involvement with the outfit was through its creative program for emerging artists, a think tank designed to develop art and give young creatives a springboard to further reap the opportunities of a sometimes overcrowded industry.

Off the back of that, Dash was invited back this year to curate Salon 2 and was given free rein over the program. Immediately, Dash was drawn to the idea of stacking Salon 2’s deck with women whose art immediately and memorably shows off their considerable creative strengths. “The reason that I wanted to do that was because, as a female artist, it occurred to me that a lot of the time our perceptions of ourselves differ from the way that other people see us,” Dash says.

Furthermore, Dash wants everyone attending to get in on the act, and PACT Salon 2 will not just be a mini-festival but also a masquerade, with all attendees encouraged to either bring a mask or whip one up on the night. “I want people to think about the way that we project ourselves to the world and what we conceal or what we choose to show,” Dash notes.

Dash is chuffed about the artists she’s selected. “It’s quite an eclectic array of artists I think,” Dash muses. “It’s a multi-artform exhibition, so there’s lots of different ways that we’ll be exploring the theme of skeletons and self-portraits. Each of the artists has a different level of experience too, so there’s diversity there.”

Some of the standout creatives included in the lineup are 18-year-old Brianna Harris, who’s set to perform a dramatic monologue about society and its treatment of women; Kay Armstrong, who’s organised a movement piece called The Last Half based on the concept of being an older woman in the industry; and Lorraine MacLarty, who will exhibit a series of photos that all capture the moment when a secret is revealed.

Louise Kate Anderson’s piece is shaping up to be another high point. Anderson, an impassioned disability activist and experimental artist, is setting herself up at the centre of an interactive installation. “Basically, she’s inviting people into her artist’s studio and then inviting the audience to ask her whatever questions they want, no matter how personal, with the aim of breaking down stigmas around invisible disabilities and mental health,” Dash says.

Dash has worked with the majority of these artists previously. “When I was asked to curate a PACT Salon, I was told that I had a slot of four hours to fill, and what was interesting was that even before I thought of the theme, these were the artists who popped into my head. I knew that they’d all work well in the space and I built the theme around that and they’ve responded to it: it’s been a back and forth art development.”

Alongside this pantheon of creatives, Sydneysider Jessica Wiel will also be emceeing and performing live, providing a soundtrack for the evening’s events. In this way, the night won’t just be a showcase of fantastic, timely art – it will be a fully-formed, multi-faceted experience.

And that’s not even to mention the inclusion of Dash’s shorts. The touching dramatic films screened will examine the misrepresentation of people with disabilities in the media, especially in relation to the issue of sexuality and discrimination, and will surely prove eye-opening for those heading along.

“People with disabilities are underrepresented in mainstream media, whether that’s film, TV or theatre – and often when they [are shown] it’s by people who are not disabled and haven’t properly engaged with the disability community,” Dash explains. “What results is an inaccurate representation at best or a negative and damaging one at worst.

“For me, as a person who very much enjoyed the arts, the problem was that I wasn’t seeing myself at all in the arts and didn’t see a future for myself there. That was devastating because I’ve always been a creative person. I’ve been writing since I was about 12, but I just didn’t think it was possible for me to have a future in that way.” She laughs, happily. “Luckily, I went and did it anyway and I’ve been supported along the way, but there’s a long way to go in terms of adequate representation. Things are changing, changing slowly, but I’m happy to be part of that.”

PACT Salon 2 goes down at PACT Centre For Emerging Artists on Saturday July 29. Here’s the event page.

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