By Casey Neill

Diverse performers bring diverse ideas to the table at Dandenong’s Fusion Theatre.
A Place Called Maze is the result.
The production will hit the stage at Walker Street Gallery and Arts Centre at 7.30pm on Wednesday 31 May, Thursday 1 June and Friday 2 June.
The performances will be a celebration of 20 years of Fusion.
Artistic director Jo Raphael established the inclusive drama group in 1997 following a request from Springvale’s Alex Litsoudis, who has an intellectual disability.
“Theatre is a great equaliser,” she said.
It was first known as Dramability but evolved into Fusion.
“Not everyone in this group identifies as having a disability,” Ms Raphael said.
“This is not therapy.
“It can be therapeutic but it’s not about that.
“It’s about art.
“We set the bar high.”
Her dedication earned her this year’s Greater Dandenong Leadership Award on Australia Day.
Ms Raphael works at Deakin University and regularly involves students and alumnus in Fusion, and also brings in professional theatre artists.
Several members have secured film and television rolls.
“We’re a little company and we work on a shoestring budget but we have a big impact,” she said.
Andrew Robbins has been alongside Ms Raphael since the start.
“I’ve been known to have an active imagination and a wicked sense of humour,” he said about what drew him to the group.
“I didn’t think I’d be here 20 years down the track.
“There’s a lot of disabled people with nowhere to go and very little support.”
He said Fusion was an outlet.
Jean-Maree Cadby from Frankston joined 19 years ago.
“I love Wednesday nights,” she said.
“People with a disability need a voice and they need to be recognised and they need to say ‘I can do what anybody else in society can’.”
Andrew ‘Biz’ Bisignano from Endeavour Hills needed rehabilitation following a brain haemorrhage.
“It put me in a wheelchair,” he said.
“Rehab told me to do this. They said it would be a good way for me to express emotion and would be good for my recovery.
“A year later I’m still here.”
Deakin graduate Amanda Santuccione, from Prahran, joined Fusion late last year.
“It’s just nice to create art with enthusiastic people,” she said.
Fusion Theatre evening ensemble associate director Magda Miranda worked with the group to create A Place Called Maze, inspired by Sean Tan’s illustrated book The Red Tree.
“It is a story rich with emotion and at the same time, rich with the ordinary everydayness of being human,” she said.
“Every week, we would work with an image or a couple of lines from the book.
“We would start with a discussion about the image or lines of text and explore these through improvisation.”
Ms Miranda said that performers spoke about worries in their lives, like feeling unheard or disrespected due to disability, being bullied, and battling stereotypes and labels.
“They also shared stories of success and talked about how little we seem to have time to celebrate things these days,” she said.
“My work as director has been to listen and then to knit the bits and pieces together, making sure that all the voices are included.”
Tickets to A Place Called Maze are available at the door for $15 for adults and $10 concession.
Call Fusion artistic director Jo Raphael on 0407 301 378 for group bookings or more information.

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