Off-Off-Broadway Company Plans Richard III with All Differently Abled Actors

News   Off-Off-Broadway Company Plans Richard III with All Differently Abled Actors
 
The Off-Off-Broadway Nicu's Spoon Company, in association with Identity Theater Company, is presenting a production of Shakespeare's Richard III designed to make audiences rethink attitudes toward differently abled actors.

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The title character, who is traditionally portrayed as a hunchback, will be played by Guy Ventoliere, the only actor in the company with no physical disability. The entire rest of the company will be played by actors with a variety of non-traditional physical abilities.

For example, Queen Margaret (played by a male) is Nick Linnehan, who has cerebral palsy. Joe Genera, playing King Edward (and the recent NYC master of ceremonies at the first-ever NYC Disability Pride Parade), was present at the signing of the ADA 25 years ago. He has used a wheelchair since his mid-20’s owing to a degenerative spinal disease.

Lady Anne will be played by Rachel Handler, who lost her left leg below the knee in a car accident. Espen Sigurdsen, a little person, is playing the Prince of York. Ian Gregory Hill, playing both Hastings and Tyrell, is on the autism spectrum and has Sensory Integration Disorder (SID). His first language was ASL, and he will be using that and spoken English in the show.

The production is scheduled to run Sept. 29-Oct. 11 at The Secret Theater, 4402 23rd Street, Long Island City, Queens, NY.

What Is Disability? Director Stephanie Barton-Farcas, also artistic director of Nicu’s Spoon Theater Company, told Playbill.com that the production is designed to ask, "What is disability?" She said, "Our mission is to create dialogue and re-envision plays people think they know. I think this Richard is perhaps the greatest shake-up of audience perceptions we have done in our entire 15 years."

She said, "We will probably illustrate upwards of 30 different disabilities within the play with most actors playing their own disability as well as some they do not have at all. It’s very fascinating and the group is truly terrific."

She said the idea was born seven or eight years ago in a discussion with Nick Linnehan, who is a member of this company. They "had a discussion about how cool it would be to do a Richard where Richard is the only one not disabled and turn the tables on the societal idea of what ‘disability’ is. Many years passed and we discussed it again this year in reference to the ADA 25th anniversary and decided that the time was ripe for our continuing the push to have disbility be seen anew."

In doing the production, Barton-Farcas puts her troupe squarely in the middle of the current debate about whether disabled characters should ever be played by non-disabled actors.

She added, "Some of the actors are very forthcoming about themselves while others are deeply private and we go by what their comfort level is. One of our youngest actors Estelle Olivia has a persistent spine condition which at times puts her in intense pain, but to all who see her she would seem non-disabled."

Also in the cast: Diana Benigno, Joe Genera, Stephanie Gould, Jessica Levesque, Fenton Li, Alexander Nero, Estelle Olivia, Randi Sobol and Perri Yaniv. Lighting design is by Steven Wolf and sound design by Stephanie Barton-Farcas. Other credits: dramaturg/asst. director: Diana Benigno; stage manager: Marco Naranjo;  asst. stage manager: Adriana Alter.

Tickets are now on sale at Spoontheater.org.

Company Background

Founded in early 2001, Nicu’s Spoon is dedicated to producing what it terms "socially reflective theatre that innovatively challenges stereotypes, and touches the heart in an unexpected way. We are the central theater group in New York City who acts as a home for all— differing colors, abilities, ages, genders, and abilities. We celebrate collaboration in developing productions that are pertinent to today’s global, diverse and rapidly changing world. New York City is full of people who are on the move and unheard, in every skin imaginable. We are committed to involving the spectrum of diverse and multi-abled voices in play selection, programs and internships, our artistic, production and volunteer staffs, and in our audience. Each play involves the rainbow we see around us on the streets of NYC. We see only possibilities and intend to change our perception of the world, one play at a time."

Identity Theater Company describes itself as "a group of differently abled artists devoted to exploring and challenging issues of the human condition. We strive to present work that cultivates understanding, promotes tolerance, and engages its participants in meaningful discussions."

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