© 2010 Karen Van Fossan
You should have been there! Or maybe you were.
“How to Make a Play (a Really Good One)” has profoundly influenced my life. I am left with a sense of true joy and ongoing inspiration.
The play itself – “How to Make a Play (a Really Good One)” – came as the capstone to a very brief theater residency with kids, teens, and adults, many of whom experience some type of disability. We wrote the play ourselves, or, more aptly put, we wrote it together.
The show included hand drumming, cats with many ears, a monkey who’s really a spy, cops who look like wolves, bad guys who wear disguises (and sell bananas on the side), a Donald-Duck-Elmo combination, and much more.
We told the story of all the things people like in a play – from music to costumes to mystery to a little imagination. In the end, we revealed the only two things we really need for a play: “Us” and, of course, “you,” the audience.
For the grand finale, the audience joined us as the body of a dragon in a twisting, turning, roaring Dragon Parade.
To this minute, many minutes since the play’s final curtain, I feel overcome with a sense of human possibility for genuine transformation of our world. This feeling is not new exactly; what’s noteworthy for me is how consistently I’m transformed while working with groups of folks who experience disabilities (as well as those who don’t).
Had none of the people in this recent group had any developmental disability, the show would certainly have been different – in ways we can only guess. But it would not have been better.
To have suffered a brain injury or complications at birth – surely these factors change a person. But can we say the person is reduced? Just as those who experience blindness are often renowned for their acute sense of hearing and kinesthetic awareness – so, too, could those who experience developmental and other disabilities be renowned for their keenly developed complementary skills.
I don’t mean to deny hardship or struggle, but to honor the resiliency and personal excellence that exist beyond and even because of this struggle. In this group in particular, I witnessed, among other things, courage, transparency, patience, profound creativity, and extraordinary improvisational spontaneity. This is how the bodies of eight performers could conceive of and construct the shape of one gobbling turkey, for instance – and how, even during the show, performers could invent new and hilarious lines and interactions.
In this group, I also saw a longing that I see in every class I have ever worked with – the longing to be a star of one’s own making, be that funny or dramatic, quiet or unhinged, wordy or succinct.
The performers were stars, each in their own right, not by muting their personal excellence, but by putting it in service of the collaborative whole. By being generous with each other, we could be generous with ourselves. In giving each player the chance to be a star, we co-created a culture in which we all could be stars. The gift we gave was returned to us, something like love – in fact, exactly like love.
Our ways of bringing love to the world may differ, one to the other. But the willingness to love may well be the greatest ability we possess.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s how we make a really good play.