Saturday, February 03, 2007

Underground Arts Movement Begins

I recently saw a dance piece choreographed by Heidi Latsky and performed by her, members of her company, and a solo by Lisa Bufano in New York City entitled, "Five Open Mouths and Woman at an Exhibition". Seeing this dance piece was comforting on many levels. First, there is a silent by enormous Disability Arts Movement emerging. Currently it exists romantically underground in many cities, but it is growing. This particular Arts Movement offers an end to the stigma attached to the performers of mixed abilities in the Arts.It also offers an end to the under-representation of people with Mixed Abilities in the Media. Lisa is one of those artists, specifically a dancer, who has a Mixed Ability but, that did not seem to be what her piece was about.

Latsky choreographed Bufano with grace and quoting Laban, Bufano was light in the space. She seemed to float. She was a dancer, but not a dancer with a Mixed Ability. When you can see the soul of the choreography joined with the music the experience you have in the space with the audience and performer is about, the experience. The dancer's stereotypes disappear and they are just a dancer. Like an actor would be, if they had a Mixed Ability but were directed properly, you wouldn't see their stereotypical limitations as disability is still referred to, but you would see the playwright's intention. You would see character. This is what Latsky did with Ms. Bufano. She used Bufano's body but not to focus on "limitation" but on taking up the space with minimalism, grace, and repetition. It reminded me of a successful Viewpoints session. There was light, architecture, sound, and a beautiful performer would could not be recognized for her Mixed Ability but for her talent. Her expression. Her grace. Her Womanhood. That is why this experience was so comforting. I sat in the audience and was proud that this woman dancing was one of the artists in this silent but groundbreaking new Arts Movement. I know now that she has her part of this Mixed Ability Arts Movement locked down. Hopefully more performers will stand beside Bufano and bring this Movement mainstream. Once it can be viewed by everyone then will the citizen with the Mixed Ability who does not perform be left alone because they will be considered a citizen not one with a Mixed Ability that needs "help" or pity.

Second my comfort with witnessing this performance was the gathering of many Mixed Ability Arts Advocates in one place. The New York Arts scene can, at times, be pretentious, but I did not feel that. I was overwhelmed with the kindness and positive vibe, but also the push from other Artists to collaborate and ask each other: so what do you do? As if we are all obligated to contribute or step aside.

A night like this makes you want to create and not miss the proverbial train that is slowly pulling out of the tracks.

A night like this is the start of something huge. A reminder it is coming. Because every type of social group was at the performance not just the Mixed Ability community. And everyone was blown away and everyone wanted more.

The New Arts Movement: Mixed Ability, Medicine, and Theatre

About three nights ago I raced down to New York City to see a colleague of mine from Ohio State have his New York Debut. New York Debuts are funny. They are either in "legit" theatres, and by "legit" I mean theatres with seating that is bolted down, Ushers, a ticket/box office, and a possible run crew. There are some Debuts I have been to in a less "proper" venue like someone's living room, or an apartment in Alphabet City that has been transformed into a small twenty seat theatre and the refreshments afterward are served in the apartment across the hall.
I like Debuts in a space that does not assume. Where the performer has a relationship to the material, the text, and not the name outside on the Marquee, that the ME-perfomer is hoping the whole night all the bulbs work that are illuminating their name. I like shady men you have to follow down alleys to get to the space. Because in those spaces you have a much better chance of seeing honesty, or a piece of theatre that just might break wide open a New Idea.
My colleague set-up his debut at The Creative Center. It is not a back alley space, but a small arts studio in Chelsea that has art classes for people with cancer and people who have life-threatening or debilitating diseases. Their organization, at these art classes does not make art for Pity, the sick make Art because it is the only way to translate the pain in their soul without screaming. They put their life, joy, tears on canvas. And their work is stunning. When I entered the space after a three minute New York City elevator ride, that ofcourse only holds six people, I rolled off the elevator and saw clean white walls with a beautiful display of art covering the white almost completely. As the audience was seated and my colleague eagerly waited back stage for his cue to begin the ten-minute play, the owner/founder/cancer survivor, Robin told us the paintings we were looking at were drawn by a Quadreplegic who learned to paint with his mouth. When you lose an ability but you have to scream and your voice works no more, man and woman will find a way to communicate their voice. This artist did. His work was a great setting for what I was about to witness.
My colleague, Jason, wrote a ten-minute piece about a young man who was dying from a rare form of cancer. This young, brilliant man was a Harvard Grad and wanted more than anything to be a doctor. But he also wanted to find a cure for his own cancer. So he studied it. Dilligently. Everyday. He worked everyday to find a cure. He talked to doctors, he wrote in his journal about his findings, his family started fundraising campaigns for research. This young man worked on this cure until he passed away.
Jason, my colleague wanted to do this piece for two reasons, well three. He found the story involved and exciting, and he was able to contact the young man's family and they sent him all of this young man's journals. So Jason used the journal text as the script material. Jason also wanted to do this project because his own father passed away from cancer a few years ago. His father exhausted all possibilities and passed away. Jason is also a Creator of New Works and uses his work to educate and bring awareness to his story's IDEA. Spread new information to bring awareness and build relationships with new audiences.
So this night in New York City, this venue, I would say this venue was one of the best. It's memories hold hope. The walls have nutured some of the sickest citizens of New York but have cradled them with such warm blankets in that studio that they have created some of the greatest pieces of Art. Paintings, Sculpture, you name it: Hope and Perserverence has helped to create.
This project Jason is working on is part of a new phenomena. Theatre in the Medical Field. Theatre for audiences of Doctors, Pharmacutical Companies, Researchers, Theatre that has shown the doctors who live in the labs that there are humans out there that are benefitting from their tireless work. But this new form of theatre is also showing the Medical Community and the Patients that Art and Theatre are a great communicator and educator themselves.
My colleague Jason is part of this new wave of Medical/Patient Awareness in the Arts. I applaud him for bringing his story to life. The story of Andy Martin, a Tulane medical student and oncology patient, who had sinonasal undifferentiated carcinoma. A young genius whose sole purpose was to beat his advesary.
In a way he did.
And Jason is continuing the fight his way.
Hopefully more issues about patients who suffer from many diseases and permanent injuries will soon have someone like Jason to communicate their story to the doctors.
If this concept takes off more funding can be raised for research and education for both sides.
I would want my life to mean something. And I look at this small arts studio in Chelsea that was transformed into a theatre for one night and I see the birth of a new form of communication and education for those on both sides of medicine. The courageous but ill and the courageous but still and so quiet, the doctors who have yet to really meet who they are helping. Soon the two shall meet more often if this new form of theatre takes off.
I think it will if it stays away from the Marquees. Those light always go out on their own anyway.