MINNEAPOLIS: When Mixed Blood Theatre decided to launch a project to encourage other theatres to produce work with themes, content or characters with disabilities, they wanted to do more than advocate: They wanted to put some muscle behind their recommendations. So their new Disability Visibility Project, funded by a MetLife/TCG A-ha! grant, goes beyond simply culling a list of plays in this underserved area, as the Kilroys did last year by shining a light on under-produced plays by women; it is also offering funds to theatres who decide to produce them.
Mixed Blood artistic director Jack Reuler traces the inspiration for his theatre’s work on this subject to Interact Center, a Minneapolis theatre company comprised entirely of theatre artists with disabilities. “I realized that we had been remiss on not having disability be a manifestation of our mission, which is about people with difference coming together and people being marginalized because of what, not who they are,” explains Reuler.
After 15 years of producing work by playwrights with disabilities and working with performers with disabilities, Reuler says he saw an unrealized opportunity.
“We have come to discover this great talent pool and this body of material that wasn’t being produced, and moreso, we’ve discovered the field’s presumptive relationship with disability,” says Reuler.
To compile its list, Mixed Blood solicited 40 theatre professionals to share and nominate plays that they felt best represented the theme of disability, either through theme or content, and/or prominently featured characters with disabilities. Reuler and playwright-in-residence Aditi Brennan Kapil read about 90 eligible plays from the nominators and curated a list they felt could be produced and appropriately cast. Included in the mix are five plays from John Belluso, a playwright who was wheelchair-bound and wrote plays exclusively about people with disabilities.
This year three professional theatres will each receive funding of $5,000 to produce one of the chosen plays, with the proviso that theatre artists with disabilities be employed in roles of characters with disabilities.
On the list is one example of a play that’s already made progress on this front: Andrew Hinderaker’s Colossal, which had its National New Play Network rolling world premiere at Mixed Blood in 2014 and garnered much national attention. The play, about a star football player who suffers a catastrophic spinal cord injury, starred a quadriplegic actor in the role; Hinderaker has since mandated that the play not be performed without a disabled actor.
In addition to bringing the American theatre closer to theatre artists with disabilities, Mixed Blood aims to expand theatre to audiences with disabilities. “Every theatre market in America is a huge population of people in different disability in communities,” Reuler points out.
“I do hope that this is the first pebble in the water that ripples out to become an overall transformation of the regional theatre movement and its relationship with artists with disabilities and with our audiences with disabilities,” says Reuler. His real goal is to do such a good job that he puts the Disability/Visibility project out of business: “We hope to be able to subsidize more productions, and eventually not need that, because people will realize what a wealth of material and talent there is.”
Here’s the list of eligible plays:
An Accident by Lydia Stryk (Physical–Spinal Cord Injury)
Blur by Melanie Marnich (Blind/Vision Impaired)
Colossal by Andrew Hinderaker (Physical–Spinal Cord Injury)
Distracted by Lisa Loomer (ADHD)
Good Dancer by Emily Chaddick Weiss (Physical- Cerebral Palsy)
History of Bowling by Mike Ervin (Blind/Deaf, Physical, Invisible)
Love Person by Aditi Brennan Kapil (Deaf)
Peeling by Kaite O’Reilly (Deaf, Physical, Invisible)
Someday by Julie Marie Myatt (Physical- Cerebral Palsy)
Soot and spit by Charles Mee (Deaf, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome)
Sweet Nothing in My Ear by Stephen Sachs (Deaf)
Plays by John Belluso earned a category of their own:
Gretty Good Time (Physical)
The Body of Bourne (Physical)
The Rules of Charity (Physical- Cerebral Palsy)
Plays you’ve probably heard of that are worth exploring in collaboration with actors with disabilities:
Children of a Lesser God by Mark Medoff (Deaf)
Fifth of July by Lanford Wilson (Physical)
Next to Normal by Kitt/Yorkey (Mental Health)
The Boys Next Door by Tom Griffin (Developmental, Mental Health)
The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh (Physical–Cerebral Palsy)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Simon Stephens (Autism Spectrum Disorder)
The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer (Physical)
Theatres interested in producing these plays may apply for funding by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the following information, by the deadline of July 31:
Name of theatre
Contact person including contact information
Indicate whether or not you operate under an AEA contract
Your play selection from the list above
A projected timeline for the project
Your commitment to working with theatre artists with disabilities in the context of this project
Anything else you think Mixed Blood should know