Rhyme & Reason have been restored to the Kingdom of Wisdom–uniting the feuding Lords of Words and Numbers. If only this were true of our country!
Alas, this act of sweet sanity took place on the stage of the New England Youth Theater in this afternoon’s adaptation of The Phantom Tollbooth–a classic children’s adventure novel, delighting young and old with whimsy and insight.
The heroes of this story set off to rescue the Princesses of Rhyme and Reason, but first they travel into the Land of Expectations, sink into the Doldrums, face arrests and chaos, deal with ignorance and senselessness–and worst of all: escape the Demon of “Trivium“–who distract the heroes with trivial tasks to keep them from their noble pursuits.
(If I didn’t know better, I would think that Brattleboro was making a political statement.)
This NEYT production with performers of “mixed-abilities” certainly made a statement about “possibilities” rather than “disabilities”–a distinction highlighted by Director, Laura Lawson Tucker.
Tucker beautifully narrated this multi-media production, like a good fairy godmother–cueing lines, gently reflecting redirections, and even enlisting the audience to encourage reluctant actors to shine.
And shine they did!
I was embarrassed to realize that I had generically assumed that all people with disabilities were in some way the same. But this production by the Theater Adventure Program (TAP), illuminated my ignorance with those who could dance, and those who could sing, and those who could bring a character alive, and those who brought us all to laughter.
“Theater is powerful,” Tucker said, “It gives voice.”
The power of voice was no more evident than in the young man without one who played the part of the Humbug. He delivered his lines by pressing “play” on a recorder–and beamed with joy each time his “voice” was expressed–delighting the audience.
Suddenly the bigger picture of this production was evident as I witnessed the team of caregivers, costumers and stage crew who worked together to create this experience with the students and those of us in audience. From the behind the scenes director,Darlene Jenson, who seemed to be in three places at once, to the Interpreter who signed the show with such style that she too supported the show with each glance and expression and smile.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sight of Michael Jackson’s “ABC” being signed–and after the show, we were all still singing.
At times, the production was so engaging that I wasn’t sure where to look, and my eyes shifted from the actors, to the narrator, to the interpreter, to the props and scenery, and back to the actors again. Lots of surprises were built into the show including the accompaniment of an electric guitar for the solo, One is Lonely Number--and the appearance of a huge gold-eyed monster.
As an educator myself, I can’t imagine what it took to orchestrate this entire production. I was particularly dazzled by the scene in which the sunset was orchestrated by a conductor–creatively portrayed by a spiral of mulit-ability dancers and scarves–first yellows and oranges, then purples and pinks.
The theater was packed from top to bottom for this “inclusive” production of The Phantom Tollbooth, and my son and I were proud to be among the audience.
Although we failed to complete our read aloud of this treasured book before we attended the show, we look forward to returning to it with characters brought to life.
Thank you to all the actors and parents and supporters who made this experience possible–for all of us! (And thanks to the Vermont voters who brought back a little more Rhyme & Reason to the state. Now, it’s up to us to show the WAY!)
Kelly Salasin, November 3, 2010