Busted Halo
feature: entertainment & lifestyle
November 23rd, 2003

Pitiless Summer Drama

In Maine with the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped

 
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Gather forty strangers in one house and give them ten days to three weeks to learn music, dance routines, scenes, and monologues for a show open to the public.

Is this reality TV? No, it’s just reality, spending the summer with cool and talented people in coastal Maine, as a student at NTWH, the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped.

Those people.
That’s of the disabled, not

for . My fellow students came from all over the country and all over the world with their wheelchairs, crutches, scooters, guide dogs, and personal care attendants (PCAs) in tow. The Maine campus is fully accessible but what we do there isn’t about rehab, charity, or pity. Pity connotes something weak or someone inferior. This summer, among my classmates, I didn’t meet anyone who I found to be weak or inferior.

On the contrary, I met normal people who were actors, singers, dancers, playwrights, and activists. None of these people were worthy of my pity, and I hope I wasn’t worthy of theirs.

No business like show business
Performing is hard work. It can be mentally and emotionally draining as well as physically exhausting. But it can also prove rewarding and affirming. There’s nothing like being out onstage alone in the middle of a song or a monologue and suddenly realize that’s it’s all you . That’s the scariest part, the moment of no turning back.

But you find that within you and only within you lies the ability to make it through and affect a whole group of people—your audience.

Not dull boys and girls
It wasn’t all work though. When we weren’t rehearsing or obsessing that we should be rehearsing, we hung out on the common room couches, or visited the local dive bar to dance, drink, and shoot pool. There’s something glorious about the smell of salty air in the middle of the night outside a bar in small-town Maine.

Some afternoons I would take the electric scooter down to the waterfront and sit and watch the boats in the harbor.

From “our town” to our world
All students are there on work study, and we have community service activities. From cleaning the public toilets in the building to washing the dishes after meals. Although people’s abilities varied, everyone could do something, in some way. Everyone was useful. Without barriers everyone could contribute to the successful running of the community.

By the way, that holds true for “real life” too. Society has to allow people with disabilities to be full contributing members. When people are barred from doing so by patronizing attitudes, or actual physical barriers to employment, recreation, or housing, they cannot live up to their potential and fulfill their capacities as persons.

Facing reality
Some currently able-bodied people still have a hard time coming to terms with that. Perhaps it’s fear that they will become disabled someday, or just a general “us and them” mentality. But you don’t raise yourself up by keeping others down. In fact it is quite the opposite.

What I want is for the world to be ready for NTWH—the Reality Show. One of real people living real lives, not charity cases from your nearest telethon.

In an era when we contemplate the legality of assisted suicide, when it is easy to procure an abortion for a “deformed,” i.e., disabled, fetus; people need to understand that disability isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you.

 
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The Author : Elizabeth Bonwich
Elizabeth Bonwich writes from New York City.
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