What do we as theatre artists do to perpetuate “normalcy?” Certainly there has been room for those who are not white, heteronormative, mainstream, etc. But what of the differently abled. Personally, I have never seen a play or any theatrical work that portrayed a differently-abled actor. It is beyond a shame, and it is one that I really need rectified soon.
Sarah Katherin Bowden in her article “A Place In The Conversation: Portraying Disability Onstage” reminds me of the body norms that the theatre uses. I use the word “remind” because (unfortunately) this is neither a reality I must face day to day nor is it a convention on the American stage (yet). Bowden is right to call to casting directors and producers to seek out actors who are disabled to play characters who might not be. This would be a shift the story paradigms that exists on the American stage and probably give it a bit of a face-lift.
However, it cannot be an underdog story or stereotype. Imagine for a moment, what would happen if an entire cast signed a play in complete silence. I would hazard a guess that most of the audience would not be able to understand the dialogue on the stage. What would that do? What story does that tell? This seems far more interesting than explaining how the wheelchair came to be.
Yet, it goes beyond representing characters who are deaf, who are blind, who are disabled. Something is lost when one’s own body can react in such a way where one’s character cannot. An experience is different when an actor actively pretends to be blind. There exists a gravity that a differently-abled actor brings to the stage that cannot be replicated by an able-bodied actor and should not be tried to. An actor cannot be asked to imaging life without sight, without sound, without movement, without linear thought if all their life these have been a norm.
Luckily for me, and Boston in general, Not by Bread Alone is being performed by the Nalaga’at Theater Deaf-Blind Acting Ensemble later in April. It looks like an amazing exploration into a form of theater that does not seem to be showcased as often as it should be. Eleven deaf-blind actors will be onstage “emphasizing the importance of their interaction with the audience and their need in human relations, which is more crucial to us all than the need for bread.” This is a story that goes beyond the bodies needs and taps into the needs of humanity. And it seems that there should be no other way to tell this story.
One of the central themes of my artistry and personality is that I am no more than a storyteller. Humanity exists as a species of storytellers and audiences. Why should these kind of stories be denied to us?