T – To be someone else,,
H – Hero, Villain, in-between; it doesn't matter,
E – Expression and emotion are key to believability.
A – Acclaim and fame happen to a few; however,
C – Celebrating life, or pointing out faults, is what-
T – the actor does best, and that's who I want to be.
O – One more time – at least!
R – Revealing pieces of oneself, reflecting the whole of humanity.
The adventure began in 1998 completing a circle, when I saw and reviewed the Paradigm Players in a production of Stud Terkel's "Working." Paradigm Players are a unique theatrical group. A family made up of people with and without disabilities. The disabilities range from Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome to Post polio. It was this sense of 'family', that was conveyed to me in the audience and I knew I had to be a part of it. I read in the program where they were going to do the classic story of Thorton Wilder's "Our Town," this year. The dates were July 9-10, 16-17, at The Blackbox Theater.
I kept in touch with the Founder and Artistic Director Jade Ann Gingerich, and tried out for Our Town in May, when auditions were held. Ms. Gingerich told me that, "The performing arts, be it via television, film or drama, are reflections of the world in which we live. Individuals with disabilities are a part of that world and the time has come for that to be reflected on the stage. In addition, individuals with disabilities should have access to the same opportunities as individuals without disabilities and that includes the opportunity to perform."
"Our Town: A Three Act Play," centers around childhood sweethearts, George Gibbs and Emily Webb, their parents, and the Townfolk of Grovers Corner, New Hampshire. Taking place around the turn of the century, 1900 and covering the full spectrum of Life. George Gibbs and Emily Webb were wonderfully played by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Sarah Denning, as the quintessential couple. Each giving new dimensions to their characters every performance, separately as well as together.
I didn't know much about the play Our Town, except that it was a classic and vaguely remembering seeing a television show of it as a child, starring Hal Holbrook. So, at the audition I briefly glanced at the play, trying out for either Joe Stoddard, the Undertaker, or Howie Newsome, the Milkman. I was so nervous, I couldn't tell if I had gotten a part at all. (The part of Joe Stoddard, went to the very talented Charlie McNamara). So, when I got the call that I had the part of Howie if I wanted it, a day or two later, my jaw dropped to floor and after picking it up, I mumbled yes. I had not acted since high school.
After the shock wore off, I immediately went to the Internet to get more information about my character and the play. But after seeing about a zillion high school production websites. I decided to wing it, knowing full well that Our Town was special I was proud to carry on the tradition.
The whole process from the auditions and rehearsals to the performances is such a learning experience that I encourage anyone regardless of a disability or not to act. If you have the inclination to do so. Yes, its thrilling to act before a live audience and do it well. But I found the rehearsals just as exhilarating and at times frustrating as a cast learns to gel together as well as test their own individual limits. Our cast and crew was no exception.
Jane Petkofsky, who played Mrs. Gibbs, (George's Mother) told TT of some of her experiences in last year's production of Working, as "The Millworker." She said, "Sometimes it was very chaotic and that some people were doing two or more things at the same time and that people with and without disabilities had to find out about each other and how to work together. "Its the people, that's why I'm back."
I found that 'working together' statement so true, as Howie Newsome I not only had to learn my lines, blocking (where to go), but I had to pantomime my partner, my horse, Bessie. As did Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb had to pantomime many a breakfasts for their families, which they did brilliantly. Harvey and Elwood P. Dowd were my inspiration.
Judy Platt, who played Mrs. Webb, (Emily's Mother) echoed the same sentiment of working with the caliber of people. She added, "I love how we take the play and the mission of Paradigm seriously, but not each other." She was thrilled to be working with her husband Michael, as Editor Webb, as husband and wife. Judy also said, "We had done Our Town before, about ten years ago. Michael doing the same role, however, I played Mrs. Gibbs."
In this humble reviewer's/actor's opinion Michael Platt's performance was realistic and stirring, as Editor Webb. Paul Caffrey was witty as Dr. Gibbs, Wendy Wilmer, as the Stage Manager was simply marvelous. The rest of the cast were also first rate, adding style and flair to their characters. Also, added to the mix were the wonderful expressive talents of Gordon, Scott and Kalen, our sign language interpreters, as well as the beautiful music from composer Jay Marciano.
Many were Paradigm veterans; Sarah Glenner, as Rebecca Gibbs, Casey Hammeke, as a Townsperson, Philip Weintraub, as a Townsperson and John Paul Illarramendi, as a Baseball Player, otherwise known as J.P. They all have appeared in either Paradigm's past productions of Godspell (1997) and Working (1998), or both. Thus, proving you can transcend disabilities and breakdown barriers among people.
I asked Ms. Gingerich "How did she select the plays the Company was going to do?" She answered by saying, "I select the plays based on how they might make a statement about inclusion of people with disabilities, for example–I set Godspell in a college classroom to reinforce the idea of individuals with disabilities going to college, I chose WORKING to reinforce the idea of people with disabilities in the workplace and Our Town to reinforce the idea of people with disabilities as a visible part of the community. In addition, they are selected on how effectively and realistically a cast can be integrated–the question I ask myself is "Is this setting one where people with and without disabilities would naturally interact?"
Editor Notes: The Paradigm Players are on a long hiatus. I wanted to add pictures, but could not since they are gif.