An Artist at Play

Matt and I have been adapting a novella into a stage play. We got permission from the author to write a stage play and are hoping to get the rights to the book after the reading on April 30th.

The story takes place in the mind of a severely disabled fourteen-year-old boy who cannot communicate. What sparked my interest was the story. What does go on in the mind of someone who can’t communicate or has minimal communication skills? How smart are they? Do they really like what’s going on? What’s their opinion on things? Although the book is fictional, it gives the reader some understanding that someone who doesn’t communicate could still be a fully functioning human being.   Yes, technology has come a long way. We now have lots of options, things are being tested that can employ electrical signals in the brain to control computer cursors. They’re caps that use technology similar to EKGs. Someone I know is working with someone who was recently paralyzed on communicating with her toe. It’s amazing how far we’ve come. I’m so lucky that nowadays, people with different abilities are not just shut away and institutionalized. Although, in some parts of the world, it still happens. We’ve come a long way, but not far enough.

After completing a pretty solid draft of our play, we sent it to friends for feedback. I was glad that overall feedback has been positive, but Matt and I know the play needs work. What surprised me was how emotional some of my friends became after reading it. I know some people who are like the main character or who are parents of children who are like the main character of the play. This seemed to really hit a nerve with them.

My mom told me when I was diagnosed that her only hope was we could communicate somehow. After talking to some friends, I was reminded that the majorty of parents fear that their child is not communicating to their full extent, leaving them to wonder what is really going on in their heads. I kept reminding my friends that this a play, it’s a work of fiction. I thought this story was interesting and needed to be told on stage. For some of them, the questions the play brought up made it really hard to read. I just wanted to know if it was a good play or not. I was completely unaware of the impact it would have on some of friends. I’m not a parent, thank god, so I never put myself in their shoes.

After sharing this with my mom, she told me some parents who she lent the book to had the same reaction the same reaction some of my friends had to the play. My mom gave me the book when I was thirteen because she thought it was an easy summer read. She was drawn to the book for the same reason we turned it into a play. 

Since the novella is written from the character who can’t communicate’s perspective, Matt and I had to think outside the box for a way to show this. We agreed having two actors play the same part was the solution. One actor would be temporarily able-bodied, speak to the audience, and have no interaction with the other cast members. The other would simply sit in a wheelchair and have some different physicalities because we want people to get that he is an actual person. By embodying his thoughts in another actor, we can create some nice stage pictures and show the difference between his physical life and his mental life.

It still all boils down to the parents. When I was born, the doctors told my parents I would be a vegetable and don’t waste their time.  I wasn’t born that long ago! You would think, in this day and age, people would think differently. But they don’t. It’s also easier to say, “Institutionalize them” than it is to explore options. The latter takes time and can be a lot of trial and error. Being a parent is tough. There are no set rules. What works for one family might not work for another. Having a child who can’t communicate offers another challenge. Luckily, most of the parents I know who have kids who aren’t verbal find other ways for their kids to communicate. I applaud them for taking the time to explore these options. It’s sad that this is not the norm.

Matt and I never intended the play to cause anyone distress. We had hoped it would be thought-provoking and teach people that even if someone can’t communicate, they’re still a person.


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