The #NADTA2015 conference will be featuring an ensemble workshop presented by the cast/creators/researchers of the latest endeavor of NYU’s “As Performance” Series. The presenters of “Rule Breaking: Disability as Performance” have offered the following thoughts and perspectives on their play and the research process that accompanied its development and we encourage you to read through before attending their presentation on Saturday, October 17!
Inspired by Andrew Solomon’s book Far from the Tree, this participatory action research/performance project is part of the NYU Drama Therapy Program’s As Performance series and will be the featured performance of the series in November 2015 at the Provincetown Playhouse.
Our Director Nick Brunner, RDT writes: “Rule Breaking is a play about a community of people coming together. People that know each other, that care for each other, that fear for each other. The play is about the relationship between individuals with disabilities and their caretakers; about mothers and sons, brothers and sisters, friends and companions; about finding community; about sharing the struggles, pains, and joys of a life with disability; and about learning to break the rules a little bit.”
Rule Breaking is also performative research and applies Nisha Sajnani’s Living Inquiry as our methodology in our process. All participants function as co-researchers/collaborators. Participants entered the research in dyadic relationship (parent/child, sibling/sibling, direct support staff/consumer). Using drama therapeutic and applied theater processes including free-associative improvisation, role reversal, working with text, monologue and scene writing, use of actual developmental evaluations, storytelling and self-reflection, participants have distilled experiences of encounter between each other which have now been scripted by playwright Alec Silberblatt into a full length play.
Collaborator Maria Hodermarska, RDT-BCT writes: “There is a movement to disassemble hegemonic thinking (perennial in the academy) but this time through relationship. We are collaborating together from the simple yet profound and eternal innovation that comes through relationship. In our project, everyone is a co-researcher. It’s a duo-ethnography process. We eschewing the “doer/done to” binaries. This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the ADA in which we are seeing a shift from advocacy for someone with a disability to activism with someone with a disability. “How shall I act?” Clinicians, educators, researchers must ask this question all the time. When we are working alongside someone with a disability not for them or towards them, we are required to think differently about relationship and its meaning. It changes how we think, how we act, and how we employ our skills and our theories in our praxis. It requires us to enter into the margins where people with disabilities often are relegated and create/do our work in those spaces.”
Emerging themes in the research process:
Our process is an interrogation of disability theory that, in part, examines the power and privilege of one group over another. In our research, we have begun to track and code when a person with a disability is aware that their personal agency over body or choices is being controlled by someone else. The insights into the frequency with which this experience is perceived and named within the improvisations have led to some rich discussion and insight around this topic.
Other emerging material involves issues around gender identity, queer and disabled bodies (several of our members identify as LGBTQ and four of our members identify as people who are living with a disability). One of our members is a person with intellectual disability who is also a transgender female. She has in recent years been engaged in a legal process over gaining autonomy and decision making over her body. Her experience in transition and the resiliency that she has had to demonstrate throughout the process has also become an organizing focus in our group. As a person who legally has no agency over her own body (due to IQ below 70) this group member’s struggle for self-determination has become a rallying cry within the group.
We are discovering how building and inhabiting co-creative community has implications for the “ethic of care” in clinical and familial relationships. How do we define and create community? What are the values that under-gird it? We are creating and discussing around these questions, as well.
Drama Therapist and Theologian, Roger Grainger, writes about a healing theater. His ideas are another source of inspiration for this project. In The Open Space he wrote, “Human vulnerability, our own or other people’s, draws us closer to one another, just as fear keeps us apart. The gap between the two realities—one concrete, the other imagined—acts as a safeguard against fear but allows love to reach out towards the other person. Theater is always about pain: pain of breaking free from ourselves, pain of identifying with the suffering of others even if this is what we—and they—dismiss as the discomfiture of embarrassment. Theater is about the way we see ourselves: the way we value ourselves, protect ourselves, bestow ourselves. Because of these things it is also about how we discover ourselves, not merely theoretically but existentially, in and through relatedness” (p. 163).
The work has been rich and profound for everyone concerned. Our effort towards an anti-hegemonic worldview through the theater has brought each of us closer to an understanding of the impact of disability on our lives, closer to each other, and closer to the change we wish to be and to see in the world.
About the Presenters
Maria Hodermarska (Co-Principal Investigator/Collaborator) is a Licensed Creative ArtsTherapist (LCAT), a Registered Drama Therapist (RDT) Board Certified Trainer of Drama Therapy (BCT), a Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) and an Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor (ICADAC). Her work spans both the therapeutic and applied uses of the theater arts most often within community-based mental health programs and alcohol/substance abuse treatment programs serving un-served or under-served populations. Ms. Hodermarska has been teaching in the Graduate Program in Drama Therapy at NYU Steinhardt since 1995. She is the former Ethics Chair and Education Chair for the North American Drama Therapy Association. Ms. Hodermarska is the coordinator of creative arts therapies for Project Common Bond, an international symposium for young people who have lost a family member to an act of terror. She has is the proud recipient of two teaching awards from NYU.
Cecilia Dintino (Co-Principal Investigator/Collaborator) is a clinical psychologist and drama therapist. Dr. Dintino is an Adjunct Instructor in the NYU Program in Drama Therapy and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. She works as a supervising clinical psychologist for Columbia University’s Specialty Clinics, where she utilizes supportive, behavioral, mindfulness based interventions in both group and individual therapy. Dr. Dintino also has a private practice in NYC, where she provides integrative treatment to individuals suffering from emotional and mood disorders, anxiety and personality disorders. Dr. Dintino has extensive experience and expertise in the therapeutic use of creative arts in the holistic treatment of individuals and communities. She is a faculty member of the Institutes for the Arts in Psychotherapy. Most recently, with Emilie Ward, she is co-founder, and co-facilitator of Drama Lab NYC, a therapeutic performance company.
Nick Brunner (Director) is currently working as a Recovery Counselor for Goodwill Industries of New York/New Jersey. Nick holds a BA in Culture Studies from Indiana University and an MA in Drama Therapy from New York University. He has experience working in various capacities with children and adults living with mental illness and also individuals with developmental disabilities. Nick is also a theatre artist who has written, performed, and directed pieces of original theatre in San Francisco, New York, and in the Midwest. He is interested in creating new works of therapeutic theatre that both challenge and vitalize the communities they serve.
Alec Silberblatt (Playwright) is a playwright and actor and is very excited to be working on this project with such lovely people. Plays include: Room for One (Middle Voice Theater Company), A Friend (Rising Phoenix Rep’s Cino Nights), Norway, The Lone Soldier, Corners (Finalist in Throughline Theater’s Playwright Competition). He is the Playwriting Lab Assistant at MCC Theater’s Youth Company and is a member of the Middle Voice Theater Company. Training: BFA, Acting CCM.
Ming Yuan Low (Music Therapist) , M.A., MT-BC, Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapist, is currently working as the Research and Technical Assistant and Clinician at the Nordoff-Robbins Center for Music Therapy in New York University. Low has recently presented on the application of music in children’s stories, and music therapy with children with ASD. His research interests at the center are currently focused on the effects of group music therapy on adult clients with developmental disabilities and the clinical utilization of musical theater composition techniques. In his spare time, Low accompanies and conducts community musical theater productions.
Ethan Jones (Collaborator) is a college student at Kingsborough Community College with interest in the arts, music, and writing. He is also an activist. Ethan has performed with AMAS Community Theater and keeps a blog about his life and art which can be found at: mayorofnelson[at]wordpress.com.
Lily Houghton (Collaborator) is a young playwright born and raised in Manhattan. By the age of nineteen she has written three full length plays as well as numerous ten minute festival plays. She has had workshop productions at MCC Theatre Company in their young writer’s festival Fresh Play as well as assistant directed for the festival the following year. Lily is currently mentored by playwright Lucy Thurber, who she studied with at MCC Theatre Youth Company her senior year of high school. Currently Lily is studying playwriting, with teachers Sherry Kramer and John Walsh, and developmental psychology at Bennington College. Her essay on autism awareness was published last year in Teen Ink’s anti bullying book and she was awarded for her advocacy work from both Autism Speaks and the Beacon High School. Lily has worked with companies and places such as The Miracle Project, Signature Theatre Company, MCC Theater, Reading Opens Minds, and The O’Neill Theater. Her writing has appearing in MCC’s “Uncensored” four years in a row off-Broadway at the Women’s Project Theater and Theatre Row. Her plays specifically on autism have set her apart from the crowd, particularly at such a young age.
Craig Becker (Collaborator) is Graduate of the University of Illinois with a Master’s degree in Speech Pathology. Craig is Associate Director of Residential Services AHRC-NYC, supporting men and women with intellectual disabilities.
Delia Camden (Collaborator) is a proud transgender female activist who is currently employed at the Betty Pendler New York League Work Center. She wants to be respected as a woman and wants to have people use the proper female pronouns. In her spare time, she loves shopping at thrift stores and going to libraries where she enjoys films and TV shows that champion LGBTQ issues. Her favorite is Transamerica.
Henry Houghton (Collaborator) is a young New Yorker with an interest in theater. He has performed at The Child School, AMAS Musical Theater, and the After Work Theater. He is extremely excited to be a part of this project. When Henry isn’t acting he is hanging out in his new apartment or working at the Museum of Natural History.