For the longest time, I’ve been secretly wishing a theater company would offer my daughter on the spectrum more and better opportunities to perform and grow as an actor and singer. I wasn’t looking for a social club, nor was I seeking any old stage that would allow handicapped people to perform. I know of several theater groups that do wonderful work for the populations they serve, yet their productions often feel like school plays, where everyone always gets a part regardless of talent or ability. To keep things “fair”, there are rarely starring roles for higher functioning members in the group. These theater groups for actors on the spectrum are often organized much like Little League teams, where everyone gets a trophy regardless of ability. But I was looking for a place where Samantha would be treated like a talented adult who is serious about performing and who is not afraid to appear on stage and compete with other high functioning adults with disabilities.
Finally, my wish has come true: EPIC Players Theater has launched! Company membership is through audition only, and this theater troupe is uniquely structured to include a mixed ensemble of neurotypical and developmentally disabled artists for the enrichment of both the cast and audience. EPIC’s goal is to break down current social barriers in mainstream arts and redefine the face of theater with more inclusivity. To accomplish this goal, Samantha and other cast members will be offered free classes in performing arts, including resume creation, finding auditions, presenting monologues, getting an agent, etc. Here’s a trailer EPIC made about their vision:
How does EPIC plan to finance their aspirations? After EPIC’s first fundraiser and kick-off performance last week—both of which were very successful—I asked Artistic Director Aubrie Therrien to answer a few questions about the creation of this very special theater group.
What inspired you to form EPIC?
EPIC was inspired by the talented individuals we have worked with over the past few years living with developmental disabilities and observing that they yearn for more; more opportunities, more challenges, more chances to be taken seriously and more of a community environment not separated by current social constructs. We also noticed that the mainstream arts was significantly lacking in representation for our community members–the divide needed to be broken. Our individuals are some of the most talented and honest actors we have had the privilege to work with. It is our job to provide them with a platform to shine and be heard.
What makes EPIC unique and/or different from other theater groups?
A big difference between EPIC and other theatre groups is that we incorporate an inclusion cast of artists living both with and without developmental disabilities. We do this in hopes of breaking down current stigmas surrounding persons with disabilities and pioneer accessibility to the arts for these individuals. We also are not a “program” for persons who live with developmental disabilities, but a legitimate theatre company that seeks to challenge their actors and promote personal and professional growth that hopefully will lead to enriching careers in the arts—an often unexplored career path for a population that is statistically under-employed.
What shows and types of performance opportunities will be offered?
EPIC offers professional theatre training to its company members and currently hosts classes in scene study, audition prep and long form improv as well as special workshops in puppeteering, drama therapy, acting for the camera and voice over work. We will also be hosting industry events that connect our actors to casting directors and agents to create a more viable network for future employment opportunity. Our season will feature two main stage performances spanning different genres (currentlyYou’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and Dog Sees God) and two devised pieces centering around the experiences of those with developmental disabilities and their relationship to those living without.
How about your goals and hopes for the future?
Epic hopes to be a sustainable force in the indie theatre scene and pioneer social change that supports increased inclusion in the arts for the individuals we serve. We also hope that our work will expand employment opportunities in the arts for our actors and lead to greater recognition of the talents of our individuals and the great work they are capable of.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I can’t think of anything…. But maybe a TONY!
Let’s shoot for two Tony awards. The first would be for “Best Musical,” and a second for Samantha as “Best Actress” when she plays Lucy in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown next year. Now that would be truly EPIC!