I remember my parents calling me and asking me why the video recorder kept flashing 12-12-12. Now it’s my turn. I am much older now and it’s not the video recorder but the internet that sometimes baffles me. I have a great deal more empathy for my parents and their predicament with the video recorder now. Amazing how long it takes us to learn that there will always be new technology that will test us as we grow older.
Bob Zannini, still our Managing Director, came up with the name ‘kaleidoscope’ for our theatre company. We wanted it to be colorful, always changing and fun. When I was a student at Rhode Island College, Ann Colannino, my critic teacher when doing my student teaching at Central High School, was very encouraging and supportive and became our first Artistic Director. Our goal was to produce productions that would aid teachers in dealing with the really sensitive and difficult topics that were becoming evident in the ‘70’s’. Yes, that’s right, the ‘70’s’!
When “I’m Special’ was first created we had an actor with no disability playing the part of David Brown, the main character in the play. We always give feedback sheets to teachers so they can evaluate what we do and how we do it. For the first five years of touring we gradually received more and more feedback sheets coming in where teachers wanted us to ‘practice what we preach’. We stated in the play that given the same opportunities as others people with disabilities can do just as much and often just as well as anyone else. I had a lot to learn…..still do!
I had no idea if what I was espousing was true. The only way to find out was to listen to what the teachers were asking for and try to see if it could be done. I needed an actor who reflected the learning disabilities of David Brown but who could play the part. I made one phone call to the Northern RI Association for Retarded Citizens, now called Homestead, and found not only the perfect actor but also a good friend, Bill Sousa.
Bill was about 18 years old and working on an assembly line at the center while also taking part in activities provided by the ARC. He was very verbal and, as I was to find out, quite intelligent and talented. He was a member of the ARC Singers and since we do include music in most, if not all, of our shows that was a plus.
Herein lies the rub, Bill did not feel that he was ‘retarded’ so he would often answer, ‘No.’ when asked if he was. I would quickly jump up and add that because the word retard means ‘slow’ and Bill does so many things we do just as well if not better, he feels that he is not retarded but just happens to be a person with Down Syndrome.
Kaleidoscope strives to open doors for actors with disabilities and, hopefully, provides all of our actors with the opportunity to work with and learn from one another. Bill unfortunately passed on this year but his spirit, humor and the lessons he taught us will always be with us. His physical presence will be sorely missed but he put us on the road to where we are today and we appreciate his talents and kindness more than ever. Quite often, as the touring day would wear on, I would announce to the cast, “I’m hungry!’ whereupon Bill would always respond with, “I’m Bill!” Corny? Yes. But it always brought a smile to our faces. Thank goodness there’s a little bit of ‘Bill’ in all of us.
Thanks for reading my first blog. Hope you like it