THE STORY: In this brilliant retelling of Shakespeare’s Richard III, one of the most famous disabled characters in history is reimagined as a 16-year-old outsider taking on the political turmoil of high school. Bullied for his cerebral palsy (and his sometimes disturbing tendency to speak with a Shakespearean affect), Richard plots his revenge…as well as his glorious path to the senior class presidency. But as he falls deeper into a pattern of manipulation and greed, Richard is faced with an unexpected choice: Is it better to be feared or loved? TEENAGE DICK is a hilarious and sharp-witted adaptation about perception, disability, and the treacherous road to ascendancy.
“…moving, exciting and profoundly eye-opening…whenever [Lew] questions or complicates Shakespeare’s assumptions, even if that means departing from his template, it is riveting…[TEENAGE DICK] suggests how much richer the theater will be when it is truly open to artists of all kinds. Not just because those artists deserve employment but also because the canon of classics deserves reimagining to match our world.”
—The New York Times.
“[Lew] has constructed—well and tightly constructed—a thoroughly engrossing and entertaining play that zips through humor and pathos, building inexorably to its climax. It echoes the Shakespearian plot without simply aping it, and it’s filled with humor, Richard-referential and otherwise.”
“[TEENAGE DICK] is never boring, pretentious, preachy, or afflicted with any other of the deadly sins of bad playwriting. Instead, [the play] is genuinely entertaining and edifying…brilliantly dramatized…”
NEW YORK, NY – The Lark is thrilled to announce its BareBones® program will return this season with a workshop production of On Every Link a Heart Does Dangle; or Owed by Tim J. Lord, directed by Meredith McDonough. The play, a radical reimagining of the Oedipus myth, will run at The Lark’s BareBones® Studio from May 10–19, 2019, at 311 West 43rd Street, 5th Floor, in New York City.
BareBones® productions are simply staged, public presentations of plays in the later stages of development, and are The Lark’s most intensive development workshops, with plays receiving three weeks of rehearsal and up to eight public performances. In On Every Link a Heart Does Dangle; or Owed, the town of Thebes, once the jewel of Southern Illinois, has fallen to ruin. The river has turned poisonous, the crops are failing, and pregnant women and their unborn babies are dying mysterious deaths, all while the town's leader has locked himself away.
“This play began as an Oedipus adaptation set in Southern Illinois, but I soon found I wasn’t interested in creating another adaptation of a story about a man who creates a problem, refuses to listen to those trying to help him, then bewails the fate that was thrust upon him,” said Lord. “So I pushed Oedipus offstage. Instead, I wanted to focus on the most vulnerable people in this world. Those left to deal with his inability to see what’s killing Thebes. The new central character is a young woman born in poverty and shunned because she was born with a disability.”
Lord has been developing the play through his residency with The Lark in The Apothetae and Lark Playwriting Fellowship, which is granted in partnership with The Apothetae (Artistic Director, Gregg Mozgala), and provides a two-year cycle of support to a Disabled writer for the generation of a new play to essay and challenge perceptions of the "Disabled Experience." Tim became the inaugural recipient of the Fellowship last season, receiving a $40,000 prize and a $5,000 opportunity and resource fund, as well as outreach and scouting toward the commissioning and development of the new play, and a $10,000 production enhancement fund.
“But Every Link isn’t a play about disability,” said Lord. “Like the play that inspired it, it’s about power—who has it and how they hold onto it. It’s about understanding that true power comes from being entrusted with it. And it’s about learning to own one’s power. I’ve had the great gift of unwavering support from The Apothetae and Lark Playwriting Fellowship over the past year and a half. It’s allowed me to tell this really big, ambitious story from a perspective that is often overlooked, so Every Link is also a play about enabling people to tell their own stories.”
On Every Link a Heart Does Dangle; or Owed is a theatrical event expected to run approximately three and half hours, and is a work-in-progress, subject to change throughout the run in order to support the development of this epic story. The play has also received development through The Lark’s Project on Tyranny, Winter Writers’ Retreat, and Roundtable programs, as well as at the University of Minnesota, The Playwrights’ Center, and at the Kennedy Center.
“Tim’s play is adventurous and incredible,” said Lloyd Suh, Director of Artistic Programs at The Lark. “It uses classic myths of history and explodes myths of disability; a heroine’s journey told with wild theatrical imagination.”
“And there's a joinery into a monster's lair called the Panther's Den,” said Lord.
Past BareBones® have supported plays that have since advanced to become impactful pieces in the American theater repertoire, and include Donja R. Love’s In the Middle, Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew (Atlantic Theater Company 2015), Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop (Broadway 2011, Olivier Award for Best Play 2010), and Rajiv Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo(Broadway 2011, Pulitzer Prize nominee).
All tickets for On Every Link a Heart Does Dangle are free. Reservations are required and can be made through The Lark’s website beginning April 15th. The run will also be accompanied by a panel conversation in early May on the topic of how Disability has been historically portrayed in theater, and how artists today are reclaiming these narratives. The panel will feature Lord and will be moderated by Mozgala. Details and other panelists will be announced soon.
The Lark is ADA accessible. For specific questions or requests regarding accessibility, please contact Megan McClain at (212) 246-2676, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lark programs are made possible with leadership support from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and the National Endowment for the Arts with additional support from the New York State Council on the Arts, and Axe-Houghton Foundation.
This show is not open for review, however process-oriented articles and features are encouraged.
In March of 2017, The Apothetae presented "Spirits of Another Sort" at Queens Theatre. This led to a strong partnership between our two organiations, and the eventual creation of Theatre For All, a training program specifically for early-career Deaf and disabled actors. Gregg Mozgala, Founding Artistic Director & Sara Buffamanti, Head of Education & Applied Practice were instrumental in this initiative's creation. Such a program is long overdue.
"If I could go back in time to the start of my career, I would want to be part of Theatre For All. Representation matters. Not only on the stage and screen, but in training environments like the one Queens Theatre has so painstakingly and passionately created," Mozgala said. "There is no other program like it in the country. Queens Theatre understands that truly inclusive theater is about reflecting the experience of ALL of us."
-Gregg Mozgala, Founding Artistic Director
Loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s Richard III, Teenage Dick is a bubbling cauldron of youthful tragedy.
Written by Michael Lew, Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel
Gregg Mozgala is “Richard Gloucester"
Sasha Diamond is “Clarissa Duke”
Alex Breaux is “Eddie Ivy"
Shannon Devido is “Barbara ‘Buck’ Buckingham"
Tiffany Villarin is “Anne Margaret"
PHOTO BY CAROL ROSEGG
Originally commissioned by The Apothetae
Produced by Ma-Yi Theater in association with The Public Theater
This "Hot Cripple" Series is an experiment; an effort to bring attention to the fact that Disability isn't necessarily synonymous with Ugly- as in Ugly Laws, which proliferated this country for over a century.
This month we feature George RedHawk a.k.a. DarkAngelØne
Redhawk worked as a medical professional prior to his vision loss. After, he discovered a passion for visual art. His work, which he calls "Metamorphic Animation" is a presentation of how he experiences the world.
In an exclusive interview with Witness This (which has some great examples of his work), he said-
“Every person who is visually impaired has their own unique issues with what they can and cannot see (vision being so complex)”, George told me, “I am fortunate that with the help of visual aides, functions and softwares found in computers to help the visually impaired, I’m able to function online pretty well. The computer is an environment that can be controlled, size, lighting, contrasts, etc. can be adjusted to suit my needs, my morphing software has a magnification box, without this feature, none of this would be possible. I can pretty much control the 2 feet in front of my face in a computerized world, but the real world? Not so easy.”
It seems that Redhawk (who insists that he is not an artist but, "someone who just likes to play with pictures") would rather let his art speak for itself, so we will let it do just that...
"No one wants to talk about weakness, that's cool, neither do I. I want to talk about strength and how we, the disabled...can be leaders and guides." -Tim J. Lord
NEW YORK, NY – The Apothetae, a theater company committed to challenging common perceptions of the “Disabled Experience,” and The Lark, a play development lab devoted to equity, community, and the power of an individual artistic voice, are thrilled to announce the inaugural recipient of The Apothetae at Lark Fellowship for a Disabled writer is Tim J. Lord. The Fellowship, made possible with leadership support from the Time Warner Foundation, and additional support from Jody Falco and Jeffrey Steinman, includes a two-year residency for a Disabled Writer, a cash award of $40,000, plus a $5,000 Opportunity Fund for project-related expenses, and control over a $10,000 Production Enhancement Fund, to be allocated to a producing theater in support of a full production of one of the Fellow’s plays. The Fellowship also includes access to a wide range of Lark and Apothetae resources, including artistic program participation, office and rehearsal space, and staff support.
Tim, a St. Louis native, is a playwright who has spent the past ten years is New York, and is now based in Minneapolis, whose plays tend to explore the relationships between communities and the physical landscapes they inhabit via our shared mythologies. They follow characters who attempt to navigate the fates that have been written for them, and grapple with circumstances beyond their own control.
"I have spent a lifetime not taking anything for granted, so when things go off the rails I am prepared to find alternate ways. It’s why when I write plays my characters tend to be outsiders struggling to find their way through a “normal” world," said Tim. "No one wants to talk about weakness, that's cool, neither do I. I want to talk about strength and how we, the disabled...can be leaders and guides."
In addition to the selection of the Fellow, three finalists for the award were chosen to receive a $5,000 honorarium. They are Oya Mae Duchess-Davis, Jerron Herman, and Magda Romanska.
The Apothetae at Lark Playwriting Fellowship is the centerpiece of a broad Apothetae and Lark Initiative, designed to provide an unprecedented platform of financial and artistic support and advocacy for Disabled Artists, and to promote the generation of new plays with the power to revolutionize the cultural conversation surrounding Disability. The Fellowship and Initiative were born directly out of conversations with members of the Disabled and d/Deaf Communities, held at The Lark in May of 2015 and January of 2016. At both convenings, three major needs were expressed: more material, more opportunities opportunities (which are perpetuated by the creation of more material), and more convening as a community. The Apothetae and The Lark have been working in partnership, along with Steering Committee members Claudia Alick (Community Producer, Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Shirley Fishman (Resident Dramaturg at La Jolla Playhouse), Jack Reuler (Artistic Director at Mixed Blood Theatre), and Howard Sherman (Senior Strategy Director and Interim Director at Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts) to address these needs, as well as the profound underrepresentation and oppressive misrepresentation of people with disabilities that persists throughout our cultural media.
“I believe theater offers one of the greatest venues for perceptions about Disability to change; it is immediate, events happen in real time, and it demands participation,” said Gregg Mozgala, Founder and Artistic Director of The Apothetae. “It also provides visibility, creates community, and serves as a place of inclusion and a forum for ideas. The Disabled Community, and the experiences of that community, are incredibly varied and complex. There are commonalities to be sure, but I believe what makes Disability hard to define and codify is the same thing that makes it inherently dramatic in nature. And worthy of rigorous exploration.”
The Apothetae and Lark Playwriting Fellowship is a critical component in The Lark’s acclaimed portfolio of fellowships, designed to engage a diverse community of extraordinary playwrights at various places in their careers, who represent, collectively, a contemporary national vision. The Lark believes that targeted support is essential to a culture of equity, access, and inclusion, and a national theater that represents the vibrancy of our collective cultural voices.
“The creation of new works and the re-appropriation of existing works can help frame our experience in a historical context while simultaneously creating new mythologies,” says Mozgala. “It finally allows us to take ownership of our personal and collective identity.”
ABOUT THE FELLOW
Tim J. Lord is a 2017-18 Jerome Fellow at the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis. A native of St. Louis, his plays include We declare you a terrorist…, 11 Hills of San Francisco, Peloponnesus, Down in the face of God, Better Homes & Homelands, Over Before We Get There, and Fault & Fold. These and others have been seen at the Public Theater, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Working Theater, the New Harmony Project, the Summer Play Festival, NNPN/Kennedy Center University Playwrights Workshop, Circle Rep, the Cutout Theatre, the Vagrancy, HotCity Greenhouse Festival, and the Barn Arts Collective. He has been a volunteer at the 52nd Street Project since 2012. Tim studied with Paula Vogel while living in Providence, RI, and is a graduate of UC San Diego's MFA playwriting program.
ABOUT THE FINALISTS
Oya Mae Duchess-Davis is an upcoming playwright from Minneapolis, MN. The rhythms and cultures of North Minneapolis, the black diaspora, and Afro-Cuban spiritual traditions are infused in the world of her plays. Her work focuses on blackness, beauty, and the context of America. Her plays aim to redefine blackness in terms of love, family, community, and the magic that comes along with not knowing where one truly comes from. Oya was the 2016 Many Voices mentee and has been a part of festivals both in New York and Minneapolis. She was recently commissioned to write a horror play about white privilege which is a topic that appears in the worlds of her plays. As a playwright with a disability she is happy to be a finalist for the Apothetae and Lark Fellowship.
Jerron Herman is a professional writer and dancer, primarily a principal company member of Heidi Latsky Dance (HLD), NYC's premiere physically integrated dance company. He was diagnosed with Hemiplegia Cerebral Palsy at three months old. Jerron began his studies in the Department of Dramatic Writing at Tisch School of the Arts and holds a B.A with concentrations in Playwriting and Art Criticism from The King's College in NYC where he wrote several small musicals and a one-man show. Jerron’s critical writings on the arts can be found on Theasy. He’s also contributed to Backstage Magazine. Personal specials include, "ON THE SCENE with John Bathke", "Open Studio with Jared Bowen" on PBS, and most recently Great Big Story. Jerron has been a panelist for La Mama ETC alongside Gregg Mozgala, and Lincoln Center (Film Society, Education, Performing Arts Library). The New York Times has called him, "the inexhaustible Mr. Herman..."
Magda Romanska is a theater and performance scholar, writer, and dramaturg, with 15 years of teaching, production, and publishing experience in the dramatic arts. She is an author of five books and dozens of articles and essays on theater and performance. She worked on over 30 theater and opera productions as dramaturg and director. Her play, Opheliamachine, premiered in Los Angeles to critical acclaim. She is now developing an opera, The Life and Times of Stephen Hawking. Magda taught at Harvard and Cornell, and last year, she was a visiting faculty at Yale School of Drama. Currently, she is Associate Professor of Theatre Studies and Dramaturgy at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, and Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief of TheTheatreTimes.com, for which she coordinates the work of 120 Regional Managing Editors, covering theater in 70 countries. Magda received her B.A. from Stanford University and her Ph.D. from Cornell University’s Department of Theatre.
ABOUT THE APOTHETAE
The Apothetae is a company dedicated to the production of full-length plays that explore and illuminate the "Disabled Experience." To do this, The Apothetae focuses on newly commissioned works by both established and up and coming playwrights, and plays that already exist in the theatrical canon featuring characters with disabilities or dealing with disabled themes: Oedipus, Richard III, The Elephant Man, etc. By making visible the human impact of disabled people throughout history, The Apothetae believes empathy can be practiced, perceptions changed, and new communities forged through the collaborative and transformative power of the artistic process.
For more information about The Apothetae, please visit: www.theapothetae.org.
ABOUT THE LARK
The Lark is an international theater laboratory, based in New York City, dedicated to empowering playwrights by providing transformative support within a global community. Founded in 1994, The Lark provides writers with funding, space, collaborators, audiences, professional connections, and the freedom to design their own processes of exploration. The guiding principal of The Lark’s work is the belief that playwrights are society’s truth tellers, and their work strengthens our collective capacity to understand our world and imagine its future.
For more information about the artists, initiatives and plays of The Lark, please visit: www.larktheatre.org.
ABOUT THE TIME WARNER FOUNDATION
The Time Warner Foundation is a private, nonprofit foundation that is wholly supported by Time Warner Inc. and its subsidiary companies Home Box Office, Inc., Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. Its mission is to seek innovative and powerful ways to discover, nurture and celebrate the next generation of storytellers. The Foundation strives to build impactful partnerships with best-in-class nonprofit organizations that push the boundaries of artist development and support underrepresented storytellers. The Foundation's ultimate goal is the cultivation of an artistic community that is rich, vibrant and relevant to audiences of today and tomorrow. For more information, please visit: www.timewarnerfoundation.org.
The Apothetae recently closed the remount of “Spirits of Another Sort" at Queens Theatre.
Our particular version of William Shakespeare's, A Midsummer Night’s Dream started as a theatrical experiment with the question: "What happens when three disparate communities collaborate together to work on one of Shakespeare's most beloved plays?" It has now become a serious investigation and manifestation of what is possible in the Theatre.
With this production we had a foundation and the benefit of a successful production behind us. With only two weeks of rehearsal, it would be difficult to go that much more in depth into what we presented originally in August 2014. What we could do, was have a more robust conversation about the ideas we were toying with (War, Chaos, Otherness) and enrich the sense of company amongst the integrated ensemble of physically disabled, intellectually disabled and non-disabled actors.
Working With The Rude Mechanicals:
One thing we wanted to be sure to adjust this time around was having the entire ensemble present at the first rehearsal. Previously, we had worked with the Rude Mechanicals separately, before the integration of the full cast, and this caused some issues when everyone came together.
The first read-thru went well, and there was an overall sense that we were picking up right where we left off. The Rude Mechanicals seemed comfortable in their roles. The only thing that stood out was the need to get Mikey Lorch, our new Snug/Lion up to speed. This soon resolved itself. For various reasons Mikey was unable to ensure his participation at the rehearsals he was called for. Furthermore, he could not absolutely guarantee his attendance at all of the performances. Since this was a contracted, professional gig with pay attendance at rehearsals and performances was a minimum requirement. The mutual decision was made to proceed without him. Sarah Folkins (Peter Quince) stepped in to cover- forgive the pun- "the Lion’s share of the work.”
One of this biggest lessons learned working with the Rude Mechanicals was to not look for the performance that we, the "professional actors," desired from them or assumed they should be giving, Rather, we needed to allow them the time to make the work their own. We were trying to strike the delicate balance that would give them agency and ownership over their own process and characters, that at the same time, fulfilled the demands of performance.
Since Christopher Imbrosciano was cast to play Puck/Egeus this time around, I was free to focus on the work of producing and could devote any necessary time to the Rude Mechanicals. By the end of that first week however, I felt that the actors were a bit locked in to the directions that Alice and I had given them. They weren't bringing what was unique about them as individuals to their roles. One rehearsal, as Alice was working with the Lovers I had roughly ninety minutes to work with the Rude Mechs. I wanted to shake things up.
I told the actors that Alice and I were in leadership roles, and while we had ideas, we didn't have all the answers. They were allowed to contribute their own thoughts and ideas on their characters, staging, etc. Additionaly, everyone was cast because of exactly who they were as a person- physically, intellectually, neurologically. Playing these particular characters was an opportunity to allow their full humanity (which includes their disability) to come through. Prior to the start of rehearsal that day in a conversation with Michael Melendez, I learned that he really liked to sing. As an exercise, we turned the play within a play into a musical. I asked each actor to deliver their lines sung in their favorite genre or style of music. We had everything from Country to Opera, Hip-Hop and Funk flying through the air. I allowed the actors to ad-lib between lines and entrances and exits. Things started to immediately come alive. Problems with remembering text began to fade away as each character began to appear with different colors and possibilities that hadn't been seen before. It was only an exercise, but everything seemed to make sense. One stand-out example: Nicholas Whitley, our Bottom, who identifies as having a "learning disability," refused to commit with the singing and wanted to act it as he had originally prepared. That's so, Bottom.
As we returned to the rehearsal room to do a run, I huddled up with the Rude Mechs and told them to perform the play as we had rehearsed. Nick asked if he had to sing, and I told him he could do whatever he felt the character would want to do. Their performance took the Lovers/courtiers completely by surprise and real moments were happening in the rehearsal room. For the next two rehearsals our Snout/Wall, Michael Melendez, sang all his lines. We eventually asked him to tone that down. Moving forward he never had any issues delivering his text.
This could happen with any group of actors.
There were issues with showing up on time, food and snacks in the rehearsal room, cell phones going off, etc. The need for conversations about how to conduct ones self in a professional environment happened more often than I would have liked. Overall, the Rude Mechanicals demeanor and integration into the larger ensemble and process was far easier and more successful with this second iteration.
When we have the good fortune to work on this project again, I would like to give The Rude Mechanicals full creative control over the play within the play.
Working With The Fairies:
Our Oberon and Titania were played by two actors with limb loss, Tony Lopez and Caitlin Michelle. Our Puck and First Fairy were played by actors who have cerebral palsy, Chris Imbrosciano and Jessy Yates. Visually, the physical diversity is stunning: Tony has a prosthetic leg, Caitlin a prosthetic arm; one molded plastic and one bionic. Jessy is ambulatory but chooses to use a wheelchair for increased mobility, and Chris has a very particular gait and carriage.
Knowing a little something about CP myself, as an actor I am constantly working and moving through incredible amounts of tension; a result of the neurological effects on the body related to spastic diplegia. Only until very recently have I begun to acknowledge the fact that every character I ever play will have my disability. It is completely antithetical to "good acting" to deny the vessel with which one was born into. This is the instrument through which one accesses sound, breath, emotions and, you know, everything that makes a person human.
Jessy, a recent graduate of NYU doubled as First Fairy and Philostrate. She told me in conversation that since deciding to use a wheelchair she noted a marked improvement in her acting. This made sense to both of us. When your nervous system isn't in a constant state of fight or flight trying to maintain balance, resist the force of gravity and not fall or crash into people or objects one can focus more on things like- being present in the scene at hand.
With Chris, I noticed he always appeared to be rushing to make his entrances and exits. Even when he was encouraged to take his time, by Alice and myself, he didn't seem able to slow down. Chris would often fall down in his scenes. This is completely related to CP in particular, which thrives on speed and momentum in an effort to maintain balance and stability. Throughout the process I encouraged him to acknowledge his CP and integrate it into the character. Puck is non-human and supernatural, so there was no need for Chris (or any of the Fairies) to try and "appear normal." We also worked one on one on identifying and accessing specific initiation points in the body through which Puck would move and cover space. Chris in particular rarely bends his knees and there's no movement in his shoulder blades when he's in motion. We experimented with Puck initiating movement from the shoulder blades and the back of the knees. Stillness was also a problem for Chris. For a CP nervous system the fear of falling is very real and the system is constantly reminding the body of that fact. We gave him (Chris/Puck) permission to always be in motion- small, medium, big, internally, externally, etc. After all Puck is mercurial; a famous shape shifter who even brags about his speed on more than one occasion. We felt we had a contextual justification for this, that might also offer Chris some relief and a new way into exploring the character.
All of this was easier said then done, and we had varying degrees of success. I think what's important to note is that we were aware and acknowledged Chris' particular idiosynchracies as an actor and were making the attempt of actively strategizing solutions to enhance his character and performance.
Caitlin Michelle is a seventh grade Language Arts teacher who lives and works in New Jersey. While she has acted before (most recently as Athena is CSC's production of Iphegnia last season), I knew her experience with classical text was limited.
This is an interesting position to be in as an artistic director who works primarily with Disabled artists. I want to elevate the quality of work in this area in an effort to merge Disability in to the mainstream. Personally, that means increasing visibility and opportunity by giving disabled actors and artists opportunities to work with people and material they wouldn't necessarily have access to. I am keenly aware that the levels of talent, training and experience vary greatly in the community of Disabled actors I currently know. My goal is always the creation of first rate theatre. At this stage I am constantly balancing the demands of creating "good work" and the need to develop the skills and talents of Disabled artists.
With Caitlin, she already possessed a great love of language and had a strong intellectual grasp of the character and given circumstances. Sara Buffamanti, an Artistic Advisor to The Apothetae who also played Hermia in both versions, worked with Caitlin one-one-one. With a few simple tools Caitlin was able to adjust her breath, vocalization and made the imagery in the text come alive. She even continued the work outside the rehearsal room and mentioned that her students noticed a marked difference in her voice.
Putting It All Together:
I was thrilled to have our original foursome of lovers return. Their combined talent and expertise, common vocabulary based on their shared experience at Columbia's MFA Acting program and their willingness to dive into a project with more questions than answers and give their all is a rare gift.
One question that kept coming up for some of us was, who cares about the Lovers? They have an extraordinary experience during the course of the play that should leave them changed in some way, yet they remain for the most part narcissistic, vain and petty to the end.
I didn't want this cast to engage in this process, have a shared experience, and feel like nothing had been learned or exchanged about an experience that was different from their own. The Apothetae is not a community organization or engaging in art therapy. A major pillar of the company's mission however, is to expand the conversation and discourse on Disability in Theatre and by extension, society at large. We were able to do some of this thanks in no small part to Jan Valle
Jan joined us last time, but was out of town during our performances at Ensemble Studio Theatre. This time she was present at practically every rehearsal and performance for our run in Queens. As artistic director of The Apothetae, I feel the documentation of all our work is essential. With "Spirits Of Another Sort" in particular, there were no existing models for the kind of work we were engaging in. When Jan volunteered to capture our process through her unique perspective as educator, scholar and ally in the field of Disability Studies I didn't hesitate. We both saw this as a great opportunity and have a shared hope that our work will be published and replicated for future study and application.
In between our matinee and evening performance on Saturday, each member of of the ensemble was invited to participate in a conversation about being part of this process. We had a frank, open discussion about Theatre, Disability and Community. Not everything can be solved with one conversation, but change can certainly begin with one. "Spirits Of Another Sorts' " greatest successes was the people it brought together. All of the elements insured our experiment's success.
I think there's some special alchemy to the ethnic, gender, physical and neurodiversity in our ensemble embodying Shakespeare's text. That alchemy works when shared with an audience, whether it be in performance or talk-backs. Perhaps it grows stronger in conversations amongst the cast and crew in the green room and maybe, just maybe, it starts working as soon as these particular bodies enter an arts center or organization like Queens Theatre. The space changes. Eyes and ears are broken open. Change happens. That is a kind of simple magic that only theatre can work. The best kind.
Saturday morning I was invited to speak at a plenary session of the APAP|NYC 2017 conference in the Grand Ballroom of the New York Hilton Midtown. All of the speakers- which included dancer/choreograper, Camille Brown, Composer/Music Producer Paola Prestini and Actor/Comedienne, Maysoon Zayid- were tasked with crafting a pecha kucha style 7-minute presentation (with images and/or video) about their lives, work and worldviews. The presentations were followed by a moderated conversation with the other artists and the audience of 500-600 people. Dancer/Choreographer and MacArthur Genius fellow, Liz Lerman moderated.
I was honored and flattered to be asked to take part in such an incredible event. I have included a transcript of the speech below, as well as a slideshow of the images I chose for my presentation.
-Gregg Moxgala, Artisitc Director
I turned twelve years old in 1990. One day I remember being pulled out of class. I was always being excused for Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy. This time was different. Mrs. Brown took me to a back room off the newly renovated library where there were around half a dozen adults I had never met before with various physical disabilities. One older gentleman, whom was blind, had a dog. That was cool.
Mrs. Brown turned on a television. I was excited. A movie? But I was quickly disappointed when it seemed to be some boring news report featuring President George H.W. Bush speaking behind a podium and signing some sort of paper. What we were watching was the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act. I had no idea what the ADA was. A that point I didn’t care, because I was too engrossed in my copy of Mary Shelley’s, "Frankenstein", which I was now reading secretly under the table. The television went off, and after a few moments the adults in the room all began to comment on what a momentous occasion this was.
I remember thinking,
“If this is such a momentous occasion, why isn’t the entire school watching?”
I walked back to class alone. The sound of my metal braces echoing through the hallways. As I glimpsed my ungainly shadow limping and looming huge beside me, I felt like Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster.
I have always had a great affinity for The monsters. The freaks. Most likely because I felt like one. Luckily, there is a place where the malformed find grace. Where the hideous can be beautiful. Where strangeness is not shunned, but celebrated. This place is the Theatre.*
I believe Theater offers one of the greatest venues for perceptions about Disability to change. Among other things, it provides visibility, creates community, and serves as a place of inclusion and a forum for ideas.
2015 marked the 25th Anniversary of the ADA. I believe over a quarter century ago in that room off the library that landmark bill became something more for me.
Americans with Disabilities Act.
Americans with Disabilities…Act!
This is a directive.
A battle cry.
It reminds me that I am in control of my own destiny. We all are.
Equality is not a given, however. It is a work in progress. I think the work being created with equity, inclusion and multiculturalism in mind, is the most exciting and daring happening today. I want to add to that work and conversation.
The Disabled Community, and the experiences of that community, are incredibly varied and complex. I believe the very thing that makes Disability hard to define and codify is the same thing that makes it inherently dramatic in nature. And worthy of active exploration.
I am a thirty-something crippled white guy. I was the third of four children raised by a first-generation Italian mother with strong Catholic beliefs and a father who spent twenty plus years in the United States Navy. I was born with a disability, and while I take issue with the statement that,
“My Disability does not define me,”
Because, honestly, how could it not, Disability does not consume my life. Most of our lives are taken up with love, and loss, and work, and sex, and family and the day to day struggle for our lives —just like anyone else.
It is my firm belief the creation of new works and the re-appropriation of existing works would help frame our experience in a historical context while simultaneously creating new mythologies. It would perhaps, finally allow us to take ownership of our personal and collective identity.
We are an incredibly rich and diverse community with many stories to tell.
So why aren’t we?
Currently, I can think of three (3) pervasive, entrenched narratives when it comes to stories about the “Disabled Experience:”
One of the most common refrains I hear from the Disability Community in relation to our lack of visibility in the cultural mainstream is something along the lines of,
"Did you know that people with disabilities make up 20% of the population but only 1% of characters on TV? And that 95% of those characters are played by able-bodied actors?"
These statistics are great on paper, and very alarming, but, and what I’m about to say here may be unpopular but (I can’t help it I was born this way), it is not the Hollywood studios or the Television networks’ or various streaming platforms’ job to make the work for us. Nobody handed roles or vehicles to members of the African American, Asian American, LGBTQ, you name it communities...members of these communities organized. They started theatres. They made their own work. They developed talent from within their own communities.
We are not doing this. For a number of reasons. But I have limited time, and I can’t get into all the myriad reasons right now. It’s difficult. Just know that. But does that mean it can’t be done? Does that mean we shouldn’t even try?
I found this interesting…Take this recent NY TIMES feature article from November about Transgender Artists, specifically transgender writers working in the Theatre. The headline read,
"Transgender Playwrights: "We Should Get To Tell Our Own Stories First"
Contrast that to an article a week earlier that appeared in the LA Times, about the Ruderman Studio-Wide Roundtable on Disability in Beverly Hills. That particular headline read:
“Disabled Actors And Advocates Plead To Hollywood: 'Give Us A Chance, Please!'"
I’ve never known of a problem that was ever solved by merely complaining about it. Believe me, I’ve tried. And to quote a character of John Patrick Shanley’s,
“You’ve got to be brave for yourself in this world, because nobody else is going to do it for you and nobody else cares.”
Nobody cares about Disability. Nobody is going to care until we make them care. Until we show them how.
“If it ain’t on the page. It ain’t (gonna be) on the stage.”
I know what the problems are. We all know what the problems are. What I don’t hear are solutions. It’s obvious to me that we have work to do. The difficult work of actually engaging members of disparate communities, engaging decision makers at larger institutions and organizations to have serious discussions about content generation, about training and professional development for actors, writers, technicians, stage managers, dramaturgs and administrators from within our communities.
Scholarship. Advocacy. Activism. These are absolutely necessary, but I’m a Theatre guy. I am an actor who has become an artistic director out of necessity. I am trying to be a leader. Most days I don’t know what I’m doing. I do know that true leaders don’t make followers. They make other leaders. We should be inspiring others. The next generation and the generation after that.
Broadway which coincidentally over the last two seasons has seen plays like, The Elephant Man, Richard III, Cripple of Inishmaan, Glass Menagerie- and it’s coming back! Disability is everywhere…Since the birth of radio and mass media, Broadway has been termed, “The Fabulous Invalid.” I find this fascinating. The stage is set. This is ours for the taking. Don’t just talk about it.
People With Disabilities! Act!
That’s what I’m going to do. What I am trying to do. I don’t know if it’s possible. Maybe you can help? My company, The Apothetae, is an experiment. An experiment whose mission is to, produce works that explore and illuminate the, “Disabled Experience.”
I put that in quotes, because I’m not sure what that means. I don’t know my own History. I don’t know that we have a collective History. I think...If we have any collective identity it is one of performance- Freak Shows, Court Jesters, Anatomy Theatres, etc.
I think that I would like to continue to find the Disability community through my artistic practice, because I know that The 'Disability Community' is a series of communities, with a series of histories and a series of stories- just beginning to be told.
*This is a line from, "Resurrection," Season 1 Episode 3 of, SHOWTIME'S Penny Dreadful. The episode was written by John Logan, and is the first appearance of Dr. Frankenstein's Monster
This "Hot Cripple" Series is an experiment; an effort to bring attention to the fact that Disability isn't necessarily synonymous with Ugly- as in Ugly Laws, which proliferated this country for over a century.
This month we feature Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo.
Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907, in Coyocoán, Mexico City, Mexico. Her work has been celebrated internationally as emblematic of Mexican national and indigenous traditions, and by feminists for its uncompromising depiction of the female experience and form.
Kahlo suffered lifelong health problems, many of which were caused by a traffic accident she survived as a teenager. The isolation associated with the recovery from her various injuries influenced her works, many of which are self-portraits. Kahlo suggested, "I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best."
When Kahlo was six years old, she contracted polio, which rendered her right leg shorter and thinner than the left. She noted that the experience profoundly changed her personality, but it also bonded her to her father due to their shared experience of living with disability. Guillermo Khalo, who had severe epilepsy, taught her about literature, nature, philosophy and encouraged her to exercise and play sports to regain her strength after polio. She took up bicycling, roller skating, swimming, boxing, and wrestling, despite the fact that many of these activities were then reserved for boys. Her father also taught her photography and she began helping him retouch, develop and color his photographs.
On September 17, 1925, Frida Kahlo was riding in a bus that collided with a trolley car. Kahlo suffered nearly fatal injuries--an iron handrail impaled her through her pelvis, fracturing the bone, and she also fractured several ribs, her legs, and a collarbone. She initially spent a month in the hospital and two months recovering at home. After the accident, Kahlo neglected the study of medicine to begin a painting career. Of her 143 paintings, fifty-five are self-portraits which often incorporate symbolic portrayals of physical and psychological wounds. She insisted, "I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality."
As a young artist, Kahlo communicated with the Mexican painter Diego Rivera, whose work she admired, asking him for advice about pursuing art as a career. He recognized her talent and encouraged her artistic development. They began an intimate relationship and were married in 1929.
Their marriage was often troubled. Kahlo and Rivera both had irritable temperaments and numerous extramarital affairs. The bisexual Kahlo had affairs with both men and women. Rivera knew of and tolerated her relationships with women, but her relationships with men made him jealous. For her part, Kahlo was furious when she learned that Rivera had an affair with her younger sister, Cristina. The couple divorced in November 1939, but remarried in December 1940. Their second marriage was as troubled as the first. Their living quarters were often separate, although sometimes adjacent.
Her health issues became nearly all-consuming in 1950. After being diagnosed with gangrene in her right foot, Kahlo spent nine months in the hospital and had several operations during this time. She continued to paint and support political causes despite having limited mobility. In 1953, Kahlo received her first solo exhibition in Mexico. She may have been bedridden at the time, but she did not miss out on the exhibition’s opening. Arriving by ambulance, Kahlo spent the evening talking and celebrating with the event’s attendees from the comfort of a four-poster bed set up in the gallery just for her. Kahlo’s joy was dampened a few months later when part of her right leg was amputated to stop the spread of gangrene.
Deeply depressed, Kahlo was hospitalized again in April 1954 because of poor health, or, as some reports indicated, a suicide attempt. She returned to the hospital two months later with bronchial pneumonia. No matter her physical condition, Kahlo did not let that stand in the way of her political activism. Her final public appearance was a demonstration against the U.S.-backed overthrow of President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala on July 2. About a week after her 47th birthday, Kahlo died on July 13. There has been some speculation regarding the nature of her death. It was reported to be caused by a pulmonary embolism, but there have also been stories about a possible suicide.
Since her death, Kahlo’s fame as an artist has only grown. The feminist movement of the 1970s led to renewed interest in her life and work, as Kahlo was viewed by many as an icon of female creativity.
The Apothetae is a new theatre company dedicated to the production of new full-length plays and existing plays in the theatrical cannon that deal with the"Disabled Experience."