We’re excited to share the story of Thomas Banks, a young gay playwright with cerebral palsy. He unapologetically expresses his journey of finding love through a short autobiographical play and is currently the subject of a documentary film, ‘Thomas Banks’ Quest for Love’. In this Q&A Banks answers inspiring questions on overcoming challenges of rejection and disappointment that everyone can relate to. And director of the film, Pip Kelly, speaks with Colour Box Studio about the background to the project and the world of launching a Pozbile crowdfunding campaign.
Q&A with Thomas Banks
Why did you decide to make a play about love?
Thomas: Because I wanted to make people understand and educate communities. I found there was a lot of judgement in the gay community about people with disabilities. I would go out to a gay bar or to a sauna and people would look at me weirdly as though to say “Why are you here?’ so I wanted to educate those communities, but also the general society because there’s an assumption that people with disability don’t have sex and they are asexual, but also there’s a generalisation that all people with disabilities are asexual. I’ve also found a great acceptance among the gay community too. some people are really lovely. I remember being 19 and had a good relationship with a few drag queens. They were awesome.
This is obviously a personal journey you are sharing. What has led you to tell your story? Have you always wanted to share it?
Thomas: It just sort of happened that I started to share it. I wrote and performed a short 12 minute monologue, which was about falling in love with another guy and being from the country and people loved it. But it’s an unique story which so many can relate to because it touches on universal issues. I’ve always been a performer – always loved the stage.
How has being a playwright and an actor helped with educating people about disability and sexuality?
Thomas: It’s a different way for me to educate and interact with an audience which may have not met me otherwise. It’s really effective because I’m reaching out to new people who may not have met someone with a disability before. Its a different way to educate and inform.
What inspires your work?
Thomas: This might sound really dorky, but I’m inspired by Kelly Clarkson. I look up to her because she portrays a personality of quite a strong willed and dedicated young woman. She inspires me to lead and be a leader. I like to think that I dance like her when I go out to the gay bars. But her music is really inspiring too. I relate to most of her music. I remember being 16 years old and singing her music at a talent quest in Geelong. should we write to her management? She would totally support us and also my work more broadly with my one man show and with Centre for Access. She’s in the country right now.
How did you come across Pip Kelly? What did you like most about working with her and the crew?
Thomas: I met Pip when I performed a short 12 minute performance of what was then Power of Love, but the show has changed immensely since then. I really loved Pips drive and energy to share my show and how she was so passionate.
Do you think that there is a certain fear or hesitation from people you meet with when they find out that you have a disability?
Thomas: Totally! I have heaps of stories where men haven’t let me in when I have turned up but these days I say that I have a speech impairment as apposed to a disability because it indicates that my speech is only affected and people are normally ok with that. But sometimes I improvise and not tell people and see what happens.
You’ve mentioned that you have been rejected and have had doors closed on you when the person you are interested in has found out you have a disability. How do you stay positive in your quest of finding love?
Thomas: Basically, I just move along to the next guy! keep smiling and stay sane. But I also hire escorts when I really need a boost and that helps with my ability to keep going with my work, with my life and with my search for Mr. Right. The escort part plays a part in keeping me positive and happy because it makes me feel good. I used to think it was bad to hire men, but now I love the experience. And there’s no judgement. There’s a few dodgy ones out there, but most are lovely.
How does it feel to be the subject of a documentary? Are you nervous about lots of people seeing your story?
Thomas: Yep it’s pretty nerve racking, but the world will love it! because it’s real and honest. Another thing which keeps me positive is treating myself to nice hotels when i have worked really hard.
Where can we find more of your work?
Thomas: You can follow the Pozible campaign or feel free to add me on Facebook because I’m a crazy Facebook poster. I’m also applying for some funding to create a website and to establish Centre for Access.
Q&A with Pip Kelly: Documentary Filmmaker and director of ‘Thomas Banks – Quest for Love’.
Thomas Banks’ story is empowering and educational. What in particular made you want to collaborate with him and know that his story needed to be told?
Pip: I first met Thomas during a youth arts showcase organised by YPAA (Young People and the Arts Australia). Thomas presented a short preview of his play in development. It was so moving, heartfelt, honest and raw I was immediately captured. I thought “this guys is so inspiring, I have to make a film about him!”.
What was a highlight of this project?
Pip: So far a highlight has been going to the Logies with Thomas and filming him interview Australian TV stars on the red carpet – and also spending time with him at The Peel in Collingwood. Launching the Pozible campaign has also been a highlight – it’s so exciting!
How has Thomas inspired and impacted your work?
Pip: Thomas has taught me a lot about determination, about never giving up and about rising above other peoples judgements and proving them wrong. He’s also taught me that being raw and honest is strong and promotes understanding & connectedness. The film-making process has also taken me on a great big journey and I feel I’ve developed new skills inspired by Thomas’ story. We needed to so some sort of ‘stylised recreation’ because we had to figure out a way to film Thomas’s dreams and memories in a way that could cut into the observation footage. Those shoots were really fun and satisfying, and they were just a little idea that became a reality – with the help of a really great Cinematographer called Dan Schist.
Where do you feel most creative?
Pip: At home, at the beach, with my nieces and nephews, with friends. I need to be in a safe environment to feel creative so usually when I’m around people I love and get on with well – then the creativity thing sparkles. That’s why having a good trusted team is so key.
You are doing various projects in Melbourne and Brisbane, how do you juggle and keep on top of things? What drives you?
Pip: Helping people to have a voice drives me. Whether that’s teaching film-making or collaborating with an individual or a group to tell their story through film or art – that is a major motivator for me. It doesn’t matter where you are, if you have a passion it can go anywhere so I feel working between Brisbane, Melbourne, Cambodia, anywhere is just part of working in this day and age. It’s been a busy year so far with many projects running at the same time. I keep on top of things by forward planning and collaborating with a range of artsworkers/film-makers.
What is your outlook in the film and art industry, specifically in Melbourne at the moment?
Pip: Anyone can be a film-maker. The industry is more accessible than ever. Anyone can make a film – it’s more about what you say and how you say it. There are more and more opportunities for young film-makers to learn and get their work seen on web platforms. I guess my niche is working in both film and arts and so for me both practices inform each other. I’m not sure exactly what is happening arts-wise in Melbourne right now as I live in Brisbane but I try to keep abreast of interesting projects Australia and world-wide. There are great things happening in the arts in Brisbane at the moment. My general outlook is to take your own journey – one that is true to who you are and one that respects those you work with.
What are your goals and aims with the Pozible campaign? Any exciting rewards?
Pip: So many exciting rewards! We are about to launch a new reward showcasing Thomas’ talents as a presenter and educator. We also have Thomas Banks’ T’shirts on offer and for young budding film-makers we have mentorship and script consultancy rewards. Our plan is to finish editing the film with the $$ raised in our campaign.
You have recently been approved for MATCH funding with the Creative Partnerships Australia and you are about to launch a Pozible Campaign. What are your advice to other creatives looking to start a crowd funding campaign?
Pip: Understand your goal. Make a strong marketing plan and connect with your potential partners ahead of time.
What are you working on next? Are there other creatives you would like to work with?
Pip: Jorng Jam is my next project and it’s started already. It’s a history and contemporary art project working with Cambodian communities all over the world to record oral histories, document old photographs and object and create new artwork which reclaims and reinterprets those old stories. Next week I will be hosting 4 Cambodian artists in Brisbane as we work together with the Cambodian Australian community to put on a new exhibition at Logan Art Gallery. www.facebook.com/JorngJam
Get behind the Quest for Love Pozible campaign here: http://www.pozible.com/project/194522
THANKS to Thomas Banks and Pip Kelly. Also thanks to Amelia Paxman for assisting with Thomas’ interview. Platform Youth Theatre is Producer Thomas Banks’ play.
Intro and interview questions by our new Colour Box Studio volunteer Sharmane Rabusa.