Friday, March 23, 2007

Hope on the Carousel

Alex, who is a few years younger than me, and I were both in our church’s children’s choir for several years. Now, Alex is in the teen choir while I’m in the adult choir, so we only sing together at Christmas and Easter. Alex is a senior at a Chicago public high school and plans to major in music when he goes to college in the fall.

Alex has a lead role in his school musical, Carousel. He plays the tragic hero, Billy Bigelow. Last night, several members of our church, including me, went to see Alex in his play. Alex had been enthusiastically talking about the musical for weeks and I was excited to see him perform.

Whenever I go out, I can't help but notice accessibility and inclusion. I don’t mean to obsess, but there is so much exclusion in attitude, policy, and practice most everywhere, that it’s hard to miss. But last night was unique.

When we pulled into the parking lot, there were many handicapped parking spots right in front of the entrance. We proceeded through the power double doors. When one of the power buttons wasn't working, a stranger went off to tell the manager. The high school auditorium was a modest size and had multiple wheelchair seating choices. Even though I was the only audience member in a wheelchair, it was refreshing to see such an inclusive attitude towards the diversity of potential audiences.

I comfortably settled in to watch the show. Alex's beautiful, strong, baritone voice and fine acting ability wowed the entire audience. He was fabulous! The entire cast put on a wonderful show.

And I loved that no big deal was made of the fact that the actor who played the romantic, male lead, Mr. Snow, had a visible physical disability and used a power wheelchair. The actor had a strong tenor voice, was a fine actor and was fully included in the show. His character romanced the female lead quite convincingly.

Of course, I am not at all surprised that a person with a disability can sing, act, and play a romantic lead. What surprised me was that the director used the most capable actor for the part, even when that actor would not typically be thought of in our society as being able to portray such a character. What's more, to the audience, it appeared effortless and natural.

I think that it’s really neat that Alex never told me, “Hey, David – one of the leads in my play uses a wheelchair.” It wasn’t a big deal to Alex – he saw me as David and his fellow actor as Joel. He never thought it relevant that we both use a wheelchair.

I was also struck by the audience’s genuine appreciation for all the actors’ performances. No inspirational mumbo jumbo. No phoniness. No pity. All the performers deserved and received hearty applause.

(The only evidence that I was still on planet Earth came five minutes after the show ended. The audience was filing out of the auditorium. A lady came up to me and told me what a wonderful voice I had. It took me a moment to catch what she meant. She thought that an actor had jumped off the stage into the crowd all while changing skin color, hair color, body type, physical impairment, wheelchair brand, and costume, and was now in front of her exiting the auditorium.)

I came home feeling encouraged and hopeful. Here was an experience that fostered real inclusion. This school gave its students the opportunity to see one and other as fellow human beings, each capable of hard work, talent, and even romance. These young people are future leaders, health care providers, business owners, and caregivers. Some have or may develop disabilities. They have been given the foundation of seeing people as people.

Description of picture: colorful carousel horse


Ruth said...

This is very cool indeed. What a great education those kids are getting on a lot of levels. (And I loved your joke about being confused with the actor!)

Angela said...

I found your blog through Ryn Tales -- one of my favorite blogs. We are just starting to realize how much people take for granted and how even the best intentions can sometimes hinder the situation when it comes to accesability. I held my breath through your post and I can't believe you were on planet Earth either! Although as they say there's one in every crowd -- that lady certainly made herself look silly! I look forward to reading more of your blog!


Dream Mom said...

It sounds like a wonderful evening. And how nice was that it was so accessible. Sometimes, it's a really great day when things are e-a-s-y. Wonderful post.