We closed the show today to a sold out house and another standing ovation.
This has been the wildest ride of my life.
There has been a lot of encouragement for a tour, from many different sources, and and so we're currently just wrapping our head around how to make this happen.
There are a great many people, especially within the disability community, who have been quite explicit about their feelings that everyone should see this play and that it needs to tour. This has been very encouraging. What works about this play, I think, is that it is not about disability at all. It is about me. It is about my relationship to a woman named Judith Snow who I saw at first as a quadriplegic, and then saw as Judith Snow, and now see as my friend who I love. Its that simple, but within that simplicity holds the sort of complexity we are faced whenever we meet anybody for the first time, and the hurdles we face whenever we try to move beyond assumption to get to something authentic with another human being. This is the story that my relationship to Judith was able to help me tell, and her quadriplegia was the key to unlocking questions that we don't particularily like to ask ... mainly : What is standing in the way of love?
The answer to that question usually has way more to do with ourselves, and what it is that we don't see about ourselves.
And that was the play for me. My ignornance. My prejudice. My foolishness. My boundaries. My desire to move beyond myself to become a "better" self.
It is a real blessing that for many, it seems these things became also very personal.
So. Amazing, yes?
At the centre, perhaps, we really do all want the same things? Perhaps? Perhaps?
I think so.
Not everyone will agree with me. That's fine. But hopefully, if you didn't like the play, you at least REALLY HATED IT. I would be much happier about that. That was never the intent, of course, but if you HATE it, then perhaps we were doing something right in there.
I am proud that we were able to tell this story surrounding questions of love within the context of disability, and have it put me, a "non-disabled" person at the centre of the story. I thought we would piss more people off than we did. It is miraculous that it has been embraced as much as it has.
The houses were very good, though not as amazing as we had though based on the reaction to the play. We had a couple of reviewers who didn't seem to understand the play, which was fine, though I do wonder what goes on in a reviewers mind when an audience gives a standing ovation to a piece that they do not like. I wonder if they ever question their own ability to grasp the work. Or, perhaps they think the audience is somehow below them or not as aware or doesn't understand theatre the way they do. This is an interesting question, because the piece really is asking the audience to question their own relationship to their own ego ... and of course, when one's job is to publically flex their ego, and determine that their opinion is quite important, this piece would likely be quite complicated to connect to. I understood, for the first time, the complication in the role of being a reviewer. To enter into a show preparing to review the work already instantly seperates the them from the work, as how can one review a piece of work that is asking the audience to include themselves in it? In any case, I do feel compassion for the role of the reviewer, as it must be very complicated to exist in the context of always being feared rather than loved.
IT IS HARD TO LOVE.
It is also easy.
But to get to easy, it seems so important to recognize that it is equally very hard.
Thank-you to Sarah Stanley, for being as brilliant an artist as she is as compassionate a human.
Thank-you to Andrew Penner for the humbling and beautiful music.
Thank-you to Franco Boni and the Theatre Centre for creating space for this show to happen, and for continuing to be a leader in this city for developing alternative creation based work.
Thank-you to Alex Bulmer for leading us in the choir with her vision.
Thank-you to Nick Carpenter for helping the music live!
Thank-you to Andrea Lundy for making everything a reality.
Thank-you to the Tanya Greves and her unborn child for keeping things alive.
Thank-you to Beth Kates for making us beautiful, and for constantly offering her love.
Thank-you to Stéphane Monnet for giving the show image.
Thank-you to the choir for helping this piece move from a play to a crusade.
Thank-you for Caleb and Tara for being a part of this from the beginning, and for being a part of it now, and for loving me and letting me love you (and exploit you).
And thank-you to Judith for staying true to yourself, whether people like it or not. Without you, this would not have happened ... and thank-you for knowing that.
I leave you with words from Judith that I've taken from her personal blog to re-post here.
Well, I am deeply immersed in the play: “The Book of Judith.” I wouldn’t have thought that the play and World Peace through Inclusion were related a mere three weeks ago. Now I understand that they truly are and so I am reporting on the play and my experience of it in this blog. Anyone who might have a chance to come and see the play in Toronto will really, really get something out of it, so don’t miss your chance!
“The Book of Judith” has mainly been created by Michael Rubenfeld and Sarah Stanley. A subtext of the play is about my part in their co-creation, a part which seemed to end about April of 2008. It was at this point that I got sick and tired the advocacy flavour of the piece. I was also beginning to have serious thoughts about taking on World Peace through Inclusion as my main focus at that time, although it was several months before I would meet Gabor and we begin serious consideration about taking off for six months.
Some of you know how deeply I struggle with the concept of advocacy even though I am often thought of as an advocate. The root of the idea is to speak for someone else. It contains within it the ever present idea that people who are considered to be disabled require other people’s help in order to function as human beings. It is not so much that we need advocates, as we need listeners, since even those who have no voice are very good at communicating and even better at contributing. Given that, it is no great task to discover what their dreams are and to create ways for them to contribute even more fully in society. We do not need to advocate; we need to pay attention.
So I was burnt out, disgusted, and unwillingly to spend the time and energy it would take – or at least, so it seemed – to shift Michael and Sarah’s focus. In this play Michael reads the email where I clearly told him and Sarah that I was out of the picture.
Last January, when I had to come back to Toronto so that issues around the funding of my personal assistance could be resolved, I went to a reading of the play which at that time had minimal structure and was being formed as a musical with Alex Bulmar as choir leader and Andrew Penner as composer. It was evident that Michael, and no doubt along with him Sarah, had taken a major shift in focus, and that in fact Michael was prepared to express a vulnerable and moving shift in his understanding of me personally and the life experience of people who get excluded by being labeled.
Those who get to know this play will understand that I was conflicted at that moment. On the one hand it would require me to allow myself to be exposed and in some ways, deified, so that the play could be formed. In other words, every view that other people have of me would become fully expressed in public – odd, inspirational, wrongheaded, bullheaded, artistic, curtly articulate, and more. It was no small struggle to agree to have these images boldly displayed.
At the same time, Michael himself takes a personal beating in terms of his ego and reputation. I realized that he is not putting me through this wringer as some kind of sacrificial lamb to a great cause, but he and Sarah have uncovered a brilliant format to create the context that could blow all the stereotypes to the wind.
I agreed with some reluctance to participate in “The Book of Judith” and justified it to myself as necessary to make up for the fact that I had abandoned Michael and Sarah at a critical stage in their process and that I owed it to them, particularly Michael who had put so much of himself into creating our group in the first place. I came to the rehearsals with that attitude.
Two or three days into the rehearsals I began to realize the genius of the structure of the play. A few more days and I awakened to the brilliance of having it be a musical with a choir made up of volunteer men and women, many of them people with disability labels themselves. They are at times my voice and at times Michael’s voice and very much the voice of people whose voice and social presence is erased by the societal oppression we call disability. At times there are some very humourous moments where the choir affirms the amazing possibilities that lie within the personal experience of being someone whose abilities are considered “wrong”.
And so now I am having a bit of fun with the whole thing. I have also had a wonderful opportunity to meet many of the choir members on a personal level and have some moments of deep reflection on our common journey.
Perhaps the greatest learning for me has been how much I was, and probably still am, caught up in the mirage of disability. This play could never have come to be being if I had not thought that my current singleness was the “fault” of my being quadriplegic. I started and fuelled the entire cascade of errors and events by believing that it is my stillness that places an obstacle between myself and potential lovers, and not just the reality of my being busy, somewhat solitary, and Britishly inhibited! It’s an amazing thing to have a play open your eyes to your own foolishness.
But back to World Peace through Inclusion. “The Book of Judith” is an on-the-ground (or on-the-stage) exposition of the contributions that people can make when they are included. It is also a full exploration of the journey that it takes for people to go from seeing each other as strangers to having collegial and intimate relationships. It’s a full expression of how peace is created when people take on the struggle to work from diversity instead of from sameness. I will never have a better example of what I have been talking about than this play.
We are very much hoping to tour the show. Anybody who has some ideas about this, please let me know.
By the way it has been a long time since I told anybody how to get in touch with us and/or the World Peace through Inclusion Foundation. My email is: firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone # is: 647-232-9344. Gabor Podor is at email@example.com.
Videos and information about “The Book of Judith” can be found at: www.bookofjudithplay.blogspot.com. Enjoy!