Our Own Rally for Sanity

Our Own Rally for Sanity

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

Brattleboro, Vermont

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The Place of Belonging

The Place of Belonging

Last summer I walked through the valley of the shadow of death…”

Peter Gould

Peter BouldIs it the place or the people that make Vermont a Mecca for the soul? This piece by local Peter Gould (see below) speaks to both.

I first “met” Peter on the stage at Marlboro College where he and  Stephen Stearns, offered their comic rendition of Jack and the Beanstalk. I was seated in the third row, and I remember the moment exactly, because in addition to the laughter, I felt the baby move inside–for the first time–and I knew he liked comedy too.

A handful of years later, Peter (aka. “Pedro”)  became this same child’s Spanish teacher, and later accompanied his Junior High class on their trip to Costa Rica; and in his graduated year assisted them in preparing for their annual Cabaret.

Peter “clowning” at the 2009 Heifer Stroll (with his mother!)

During this time, Peter also helped create a theater school in Brattleboro, and published a YA novel, Write Naked, which captures the tender heart of first love.

Last year, he retired from his role as Spanish teacher extraordinaire following a health crisis.

The next fall, I found Pedro’s words at taped the teachers’ bathroom wall–a long held dedicated place of poetry, humor and inspiration. I wrote Pedro for my own copy and he gave me his permission to share it here. No doubt you will find it as inspirational as this place called Vermont:

Kelly Salasin

Last summer i walked through the valley of the shadow of death one night. My heart stopped while i was riding in an ambulance.  i was in a beautiful, calm, and fearless state of mind—you could almost say, of meditation, grace and patience—when i nearly died. and this is exactly why i live to talk about it. The technician sitting next to me walloped my chest, and i returned from where i had gone to. He welcomed me back warmly–one of the three percent who live to talk about it.

i now live my life with four principles up front, as often as i can keep them in my mind:

Be grateful.
Have no fear.
Inhabit your life.
Maintain your belongings.

These have seemed to work very well for me for the past 14 months. Number one and number two are fairly easy to parse, and both have reverberated clearly since that night.
The third is really about envy, or haste, or that feeling we may carry around, of always looking forward to the next thing—i have tried to relax and be here, in my life, my house, my marriage, my work, and my town, not rushing through these, not regretting, not craving some other life, not thinking about change.

Strangely, number four has been the richest vein-—maintain your belongings. Not just what belongs to me but also: what i belong to.  Taking intense pleasure in cleaning out a drawer, fixing a broken anything, bringing a box of clothes to the thrift store, getting rid of books, taking the time to PLAN maintenance too–taking quiet delight in visualizing all the important steps.

The most amazing things happen: i decide to mend a hole in a dear old cashmere sweater. i decide to put it on the car seat beside me and drive to delectable mountain quilts in downtown Brattleboro to find just the right color thread. when i enter the store, jan, the owner, is leaning over her counter listening to a beautiful piece of female music. she is crying. i lean over and listen too. when the song ends, she says, “do you want to hear it again?” i say yes, and we listen.

Now we are friends who share music. Now I have brought her a cd of songs that speak in the same way to me, and now our friendship has hit a whole new level. Not just cloth and thread, but music, too, and the mutual appreciation of the place where women sing from.

When we decide to live in a different way, taking the time to take care of what belongs to us or what we belong to, we open ourselves to a revolutionary way of being in the world, which flies in the face of our history, of north american conquistador/militaristic materialism. Since pioneer days, we have moved on to new fertile ground after we have fouled the place we’ve been. We leave our unportable junk behind. That’s how we have behaved in Iraq, in so many places…

A great feeling of peace comes over me when I stop and say, I could fix this, I could maintain this, I could work on my relationship with this acquaintance i see coming down the street toward me. I could clean up my email inbox. I could sort through the boxes of papers under my bed. I need to tie up the pea plants: instead of trying to hack apart this garden string with a shovel blade, i could gently lean the pea plant against the fence, put the string down and go into the kitchen and get a knife. i could walk slowly and breathe deeply while doing this. i could stop in the kitchen and have a drink of water on the way.

The key word is “belonging” and imagining all the different aspects of that word. Maintaining the whole web of relationships we belong to… It’s become a whole new way of living, for me. I don’t have to retire my ambition, in order to be this way. I have to take the time to consider quality in my actions, visualize it ahead of me and in the path i leave behind me.

It’s the way I want to be, now.

~Peter Gould, 2010