I was attending a disability arts conference in Toronto and a Canadian playwright had written a play that was to be performed at the Glenn Gould Studios. The theatre was full. Five actors on stage performed a story that I cannot remember, to be honest with you….what I do remember is that one of the actors lived with Down Syndrome. All the actors had text and did lots…..except the young man with Downs….he was not expected to do much ….take any initiative…..he was only to respond. It had been assumed that that was all he was capable of.
I nearly walked out. I wondered why I was so upset. Later….I realized. The man with Downs was assumed to be incapable, assumed to have nothing of himself that was original to offer and so what the playwright and the director had done is metaphorically built some wooden steps for him and his only job was to climb up the steps and go down the other side…..no respect.
I came home from this and launched into rehearsal for a production we did called The Secret Son. We had a cast of 13 of all abilities….actors who had done Broadway to a young lad with ADHD, deafness, Downs, developmentally challenged, mental health….you name it. I told them what I had seen in Toronto and what disturbed me….I told them….there will be no wooden steps here…..the journey is hard…..the mountain is tall and rocky…..you will fall….I guarantee it….you will stumble….you will have doubt….BUT….I will do everything in my power to support you in finding routes up, rocks to hold onto, a light to follow….I have bandages……what you will get from me is the respect of challenge because I believe that you are capable of much….you must believe this also…..you have the right to struggle, to attempt the different and in the course of that attempt you will discover yourself, others and greater possibilities that you were not aware of.
They did just that….struggled, fell, picked themselves up and climbed the mountain.
As told by Theatre Terrific’s Artistic Director, Susanna Uchatius.