Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Canadian play features 9 actors with Down syndrome

What’s it like to live with Down syndrome?
That question and others about the meaning of human intelligence and what makes lives worthwhile are answered in heart-wrenching ways in the new play, “RARE.”
Written and directed by acclaimed Canadian playwright Judith Thompson, “RARE” debuted at the Tarragon Theatre on July 5th as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival. The surprise hit racked up sell-out performances and will now run from August 1 – 3 as part of the Best of Fringe.
That success is owed, in large part, to Thompson’s nine stars, all of whom have Down syndrome.
Ranging in ages from 22 to 37, Thompson’s performers and co-creators share the story of their lives in this unusual production.
Some complain about little things, such as drivers who don’t know where they’re going on the road. Others talk about the pain of loss, unfulfilled dreams and living with relatives who are addicted to drugs. But throughout it all, Thompson’s cast reminds audiences that they are human beings, just like anyone else, and deserve respect.
“I told my cast ‘You are educators. You are teaching me and the audience here,’” Thompson said on Tuesday, appearing on CTV’s Canada AM.
One such educator includes performer-writer Nick Herd, who gives a powerful rendition of William Blake’s poem, “Tiger,” during the show.
“I’ve gone through a lot of things over the years,” Herd said on Tuesday on Canada AM.
“When I was just a baby I was discriminated because I was different,” he said.
Shortly after Herd’s birth, a nurse told his mother that she did not have to keep the child. But Herd’s mother chose to keep her son.
“In ‘RARE’ we share our life experiences,” said Herd.
“We are rare. We’re unique. We stand together,” he said.
Each year approximately 500 babies with Down syndrome are born in Canada.
Up to 97 per cent of all pregnant women who learn that they are carrying fetuses with Down syndrome through prenatal testing choose to terminate their pregnancies.
That fact is poignantly addressed in “RARE” when 23-year-old performer Krystal Nausbaum reads an open letter to female audience members who may have learned that they are carrying a Down syndrome child.
“Never give up and always keep on going,” Nausbaum reads out.
“People who have Down syndrome are very talented and would love to be raised by you. Be brave,” she says.
Thompson hopes that this message, as well as the play’s vibrant stars, will help audiences see those living with Down syndrome in powerful new ways.
“All people are beautiful. That’s the message. We need to respect who they are,” said Thompson.

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