What I Learned From Joining an Inclusive Theater Group
“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”
I’m sure many of you recognize that quote from Shakespeare. If you don’t, no big deal, just blame it on the Parkinson’s. But how in the world does theatrical performance have anything to do with Parkinson’s? How will Shakespeare help me in my everyday life?
Just like laughter therapy, theater can be therapeutic for many people, particularly those with disabilities.
Building valuable skills
Last year, when I lived in Wisconsin, I joined a theater group called the ACAP PlayMakers, which had people of all ages with some type of disability. Similar groups exist around the country. For example, the Exceptional Theater Company in southern Florida helps actors enhance their verbal skills, increase their ability to express ideas and feelings, and boost their self-confidence. The company is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
We often worked on these skills in ACAP, too. To help actors think, focus, and build important theater skills, we would create a specific movement and facial expression for each character from a play. For example, Tigger from “Winnie the Pooh” bounces, so one might jump up and down on one foot and maintain a smiling face because Tigger is always happy when he is bouncing.
Shortly before I moved, ACAP PlayMakers did a mashup of different Shakespeare monologues, in which I played Beatrice. When I am on stage, I am no longer Samantha, but rather the character I am playing. For that brief moment in time, I no longer have Parkinson’s. The more I focus on being in character, the better I feel.
Parkinson’s is often a lonely disease. Many people don’t completely understand it and start pulling away from Parkinson’s patients.
Some theater groups have paired actors with other community members, known as the actor’s “shadow.” Many of these shadows are high school students.
I think that putting an actor with a disability and a high school student or community member together is a fabulous idea. The actor learns appropriate verbal skills from communicating with their shadow, and the shadow learns a lot about different disabilities.
Theater can help you break out of your shell, push your boundaries, and learn how to coordinate with others.
ACAP PlayMakers taught me a lot, especially that life is worth celebrating, and my disability does not define me. The other group members were some of the happiest, most outgoing, and loudest individuals I have ever met, and I am honored to call them my friends. Whenever I walked into the theater, it felt like I was stepping into an episode of “Cheers,” where everyone knew my name.
This program meant so much because it showed me that things could be worse. I learned to truly accept my differences and “Embrace the Shake.”
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