How Theatre Terrific brings equality to the stage
March 10, 2011 by Sarah Casimong
Theatre Terrific does what most theatres are scared to do: Put new actors and people with disabilities and mental health issues on the same stage as professional actors who don’t have those challenges.
It started in 1985 when a group of parents started theatre classes for their adult children with developmental challenges. They hired a professional instructor, with the aim of giving their kids a creative outlet.
The theatre is now open to anyone with or without a “challenge.” According to Susan Uchatius, artistic director, it is important for them to treat everybody equally.
“You’ll have professional actors, you’ll have maybe someone in a wheelchair, you’ll have someone with Down syndrome, you’ll have some people that have mental health issues,” said Uchatius. “[Just] because you might have a labelled challenge or disability, you’re not special in this circle. You’re going to be equal to the person beside you, who may be a professional equity actor.”
As challenging as that may sound, Uchatius insists that the process to putting all actors on even ground is simple. It starts with what they call stonework: All the actors quietly stand in a circle, breathe, make eye contact with the person beside them and pass around a stone.
“It’s all about finding out what our human connections are,” said Uchatius. “It’s so amazing how, by this ritual, you find that you are more similar than you are different. We all have the same hopes and desires and dreams, it’s just in a different package.”
Uchatius hopes that the theatre community and society in general will look at Theatre Terrific as not disability or charity work, but as a form of valid artistic expression.
“When I see a theatre that has disability or is mixed [actors with and without disabilities], I see a lot that’s done from a charitable aspect and it offends me, to be honest,” said Uchatius. “When I see that people are being indulged, you’ll have one or two people that are different and the expectation isn’t there for them to do anymore.
“What Theatre Terrific does is we give the respect of challenge. If you’re going to come in the door to work, like any other artist, be expected to fall, be expected to make a lot of mistakes, be expected to work hard, be expected to push your boundaries. That’s respect.”
Even though actors of different backgrounds and challenges are treated and seen as equal, Uchatius still appreciates the variety of people and the diversity it brings to the stage.
“I’d rather work at this theatre than any other kind because it’s so mosaic, it’s so multicoloured,” said Uchatius. “It’s like an incredible rainbow because you’re going to have perceptions that are so unique.”