Foundation Artist Joshua Pether talks ALTER STATE

Arts Centre Melbourne and Arts Access Victoria’s Alter State Festival is a celebration of disability, creativity, and culture – and can be attended right from your living room!

The festival was imagined by independent artists who wished to explore further possibilities for honour Deaf and Disabled artists, challenge ideas and discussions around disability, honour First Nations cultures, and shape the future of art and performance. The Alter State launch is comprised of artists from both Australia and Aotearoa (New Zealand), laying the foundation for a major in-person festival in late 2022.

Joshua Pether

The week-long program invites audiences to watch performances, talks, workshops, and Kōrero (conversation) where viewers can watch artists and performers exploring their stories and cultures. Alter State was majorly shaped by its foundation artists, who provided provocations for the festival to respond to, and established the festival’s overarching principals. Joshua Pether is one of these foundation artists.

Joshua is of Kalkadoon heritage but lives and works on Noongar country in Western Australia. He is an experimental performance artist, dancer and choreographer of movement, temporary ritual and imagined realties. His practice is influenced by his two cultural histories – indigeneity and disability and the hybridisation of the two with particular interest in the aesthetics of the disabled body and also that of the colonised body.

As an independent artist he has had work shown in Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and New York and has performed in festivals and events such as the Undercover Artist Festival, Yirramboi Festival, Next Wave, APAM, Short Cuts, MoveMe Festival, SuperCell Festival of Contemporary Dance In Situ and The First Nations Dialogues in New York. He is the creator of two solo works, ‘Monster’ and ‘Jupiter Orbiting’. He is also a former member of LINK Dance Company, Ochres and Touch Compass Dance Company based in Auckland, New Zealand.

Can you tell me a bit about your history with theatre?

Joshua: I don’t necessarily have a direct relationship to theatre but rather found my way into the performing arts through my involvement in dance and working independently as what I now call performance art, with an interest in experimental and ritual practice. This has led to various engagements both here and overseas with both independent artists, institutions and performance spaces and companies.

What is the most exciting part of launching Alter State?

Joshua: The most exciting part of launching Alter State has been working with the artists I have commissioned as part of the festival for our digital opening. Seeing the creativity of our community, even within the space of the pandemic, and how these artists have managed to navigate this space to create the work they have been dreaming and working on has been a great privilege and honour to oversee. I can’t wait for others to see their offerings.

How is Alter State different to past arts festivals and programs?

Joshua: Alter State is different from other festivals in that it will centre the disability experience through the lens of mainly the Australian and the Pacifica Region with a major focus on First Nations perspectives and ideas within this paradigm. My job as part of the curator for a portion of this festival has been to bring these perspectives to reality with artists who I know are centred within these principles and knowledges and to share this understanding to the wider community (both disabled and non-disabled). These voices are important as they bring a different perspective to how we view and see this world as well as ways in which we can apply this knowledge to our own experiences and ways of being.

What has been the most challenging part of putting together the program?

Joshua: The most challenging part has probably been the fact that we are not able to gather to create the festival in person but rather have been doing most of the ground work and discussions through Zoom and email. This has led to times where potentially the focus of the work has been disrupted by our everyday lives outside of the festival as we haven’t had the opportunity to gather in person to dedicate our concentration fully on the festival. However we have managed to navigate these challenges and work within these obstacles that COVID has presented.

And the most exciting?

Joshua: The most exciting part will be seeing the artists I have commissioned shine during our digital opening. I know they are up for the challenge.

Why should people stream shows as part of Alter State?

Joshua: People should engage with Alter State to experience a new reality. As the name suggests it is an Alter State – both in the way we work, view and see the world.

For tickets and more information about the Alter State festival, visit the Arts Centre Melbourne website.

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator, and is the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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