Hot off the presses… ITOWNY’s Winter Edition 2018-2019
I know a woman who begins her presentations with “Today is the best day of my life”. As she continues you discover why: Because today is the only day we have! Yesterday is gone and tomorrow isn’t here! The only moment we have is this moment, right now. It is the only moment in which we live fully. The only moment in which we are fully alive. To appreciate this you need to become aware. First, that you’re not living fully in the moment. Then, by developing a practice that helps you develop greater awareness of the present moment.
You can accomplish this simply by tuning into all or some of your five senses.
Whatever you’re doing, whether it’s making a plan, reading, studying, creating a vision board at a free VISION BOARD PARTY (more info here), or meditating, bring your full awareness to your senses.
If you’re doing this during meditation, for instance, start by focusing on your breath.. If you start to relax and suddenly you hear someone hammering outside your window. Don’t resist it! FOCUS ON IT! You’re tuning in with your sense of hearing… Observe your annoyance: You’re tuning in to your body–your pulse rate usually goes up a bit when you’re annoyed, right? Are you outside? Do you feel a breeze against your skin?
Continue to move about your environment mindfully, fully experiencing everything through your senses.
Your senses are what connects you with this moment. You become more aware. With greater awareness comes greater intuition and clarity of thought. And with that comes the ability to choose more wisely from a greater number of possibilities.
You can start a mindfulness practice right this minute. You don’t need to go to a class, or spend any money. Connect yourself to this moment by feeling the air against your skin, your back against the chair, your feet on the floor. Do you feel or hear your heartbeat? Are you calm or anxious?
Whatever works for you. Become the observer. Sit quietly and observe and feel everything. If your mind wanders, observe that. Then bring it back to your breath, your posture, the sounds of birds, anything you can observe with your senses. That is mindfulness.
Do this for a few minutes every hour, or several times a day. I used to have a mindful clock on my computer; something I downloaded from the internet. It sounded like Big Ben. I could set it to ring at regular intervals, or randomly. When it gonged, I’d sit for a few moments and tune in to the present moment, then go back to work. I started this practice as a way of healing from medical trauma. My therapist was an expert in trauma and had done considerable research into the practice of mindfulness as a treatment for PTSD. It works.
Try it. What do you have to lose, except anxiety, stress, pain, high blood pressure–the list goes on. If you’d like to learn more about mindfulness I highly recommend books by Jon Kabat-Zinn, or his website which you can access here.
As we approach the holidays I’ve been thinking a lot about the similarities in the way different spiritual traditions celebrate with themes of light. More than at any other time of the year, it is in this season of shortening days, when darkness prevails and seems to have won that people celebrate Light. Perhaps that’s because we take anything for granted when it’s abundant. Our appreciation for something seems only to come as we realize we’ve almost lost it.
So many people suffer with depression at this time of year; a darkness of the soul ensues and with it the ancient fear that all is as it always will be. In darkness our imagination–and our fears–grow. Be without light long enough and it’s hard to remember the feeling of safety it brings. It becomes easy to lose our optimism and give ourselves over to the night and its insecurities. No wonder in December we seek to beckon Light’s return. To light a candle in the darkness is to invite the spirit of hope back into our consciousness.
Maybe that’s why so many religions and spiritual traditions engage in celebrations of Light. Hanukkah commemorates the victory by the Jews over a tyrant king and the miracle of a small quantity of oil to light the Temple’s menorah miraculously lasting eight days. The 13th of November is huge celebration of light, Diwali, celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, is a festival of triumph of good over evil celebrated with light displays, food and fireworks.. It’s a beautiful and colorful celebration. It is not surprising then that Kwanzaa, which celebrates African heritage in African-American culture, also is a celebration of light. In addition to a feast and gift giving. seven candles are lit to symbolize the seven core principles of Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is celebrated very near Christmas.
Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, is not in sync with the historical birth of Jesus, but occurs just after the longest night of the year, as the earth slowly tilts once again towards the sun. I wonder if, back in ancient times, the darkness seemed to be winning when Jesus entered the picture. Things were fairly dire in the outposts of the Roman Empire, especially if you were ill or not well off materially; there was poverty and disease, and an Empire not too interested in anything besides tax collecting. For Christians, Jesus is “the Light of the World” that overcame the darkness. Perhaps that is one reason the celebration was moved from Spring to December, just after the winter Solstice.
Time and time again, candles are lit in celebration, commemoration, worship to give us hope and remind us that darkness always gives way to light. The thing is, you have to keep moving, keep bringing light, no matter how dark the night seems, or for how long.
Just as darkness enveloped the Empire, so night envelops us as we wait for the Solstice, which occurs just before we celebrate Christmas. We string small lights onto our homes and trees and sing songs of Peace and Joy. Light once again has overcome the dark. It did back then. It will again.
You will bring it.
For Aimee Levesque and me, Inclusive Theater of WNY is our candle in the darkness. It is the Light we offer to all those who wander in the darkness of exclusion, depression, judgement, fear, harassment, and hopelessness. Through our own difficult experiences we haven’t just come to believe–we KNOW–that to exclude anyone on the basis of something they cannot change (something core to their being) is to foist darkness upon the person, and the world. The world because we believe that each individual brings his/her own light and our calling is to help others to grow their own light and to share it. To extinguish the light of another is ultimate evil. Whether by shaming, blaming, ostracizing, or other means, it is soul murder not to acknowledge, validate and value the unique soul in every single person.
Last evening my husband and I went to see Fiddler on the Roof at Shea’s Performing Arts Center in Buffalo, NY. We’ve each seen “Fiddler” a few times over the years and knew what to expect- and we looked forward to this beautiful, sad, humorous musical play. But from the first moments of the show we knew THIS production would be different. The set is a train station and a man is dressed in contemporary clothing (a red jacket). As he boards the train with many others, the doorway is turned and as the people mingle suddenly they all are in peasant clothing from a long ago time. The man in the red jacket becomes Tevya, the father with five daughters, husband of Golde, and he begins his conversation with God and sings of “Tradition”.
As we approach Election Day 2018 I am thinking of all the men who, like Tevya, are trying to feed and protect their families in a world that seems only to care for certain types of people. I’m thinking of all the women, who like Golde and her daughters, struggle to embody their true selves, to protect themselves and each other from what the world would impose on them and yes, what is imposed upon them in their own household, in the guise of “Tradition”.
I’m thinking of all the refugees who like the family in “Fiddler” find themselves suddenly and without warning forced from their homes, or those who choose to leave under threat of harm. Where is safe haven? And who will be allowed to go there?
Growing up in the America of the 1950s and 60s, I never had to worry about those kinds of questions. I read about people who did, but they were from other places, not here, in America. That could never happen here!
And yet earlier this year families were torn apart as they crossed the border into the US and as I write this, people still are fleeing their homes in South America to save their children
Fiddler on the Roof always has been an important and relevant play. By adding a contemporary note, the production we saw last night was made all the more powerful, current and relevant as, when the villagers begin their forced emigration to America, Tevya once again becomes the contemporary man in the red jacket, walking with the “others” against a backlit stage–shadow people walking, walking, walking, but to where? And to what?
One thing I know for sure is this: They are us.
We are happy to announce the following winners of the artwork from our walls! They are:
Top left and right: Susan Davidson
Bottom left: Susan Jaworski
Bottom right: Judy Burnett Christian
Thank you for supporting the artist and our show! Congratulations!!
Inclusive Theater of WNY celebrates National Coming Out Day!
ITOWNY honors all who have come out as LGBTQ or as an ally for equality! Every person who speaks up changes more hearts and minds, and creates new advocates for equality.
Please know that you always have a safe and supportive place at Inclusive Theater! You are wanted. You are loved. And you are always welcome. 🌈
For the first 30 years of my life I never thought much about disability. I hadn’t been born with one, and only occasionally saw people who had any kind of noticeable disability. It wasn’t until children in my family were experiencing difficulties that affected their ability to learn that I became aware of the inequities in education–and in life–experienced by people who don’t fit the increasingly narrow box we consider to be the “norm”.
School personnel were quick to assert that children who fall ‘outside the box’ of norms be placed in special classes. Later I learned that the state’s “funding formula” for schools was constructed in such a way as to reward districts for placing children in “self contained classes”.
Besides being stigmatizing, corralling children into groups in this way prevents them from the opportunities they need to model social behaviors and makes them feel–and others to view them–as “different”. And as we know from our own experiences in middle school, different is death, at least socially, for all but the cutting edge fashionista, musically gifted or socially flexible.
What wasn’t clear to me right away was that school personnel saw my child as “other”; not as a “typical” kid, but as a person who had less than full personhood. The sudden awareness of my child’s ‘less than’ full personhood status–as being defined by his learning disability–rattled me to my core. I realized only then that his teachers’ focus was his disability, not his abilities, his weaknesses, not his strengths, and if there is one thing I’ve learned in life it’s that what you pay attention to, grows. Instead of developing the significant strengths he possessed, my son spent most of his day doing tasks he found extremely difficult and he was becoming more and more frustrated. It was no wonder he hated school.
But while this seemed obvious to me, it wasn’t obvious to school personnel who viewed his behaviors as something to be manipulated in order for them to get him to conform with his education plan so he would “achieve” his goals (actually their goals for him). It never even occurred to them that some of his goals should involve developing his strengths.
This remains a common experience among people–including gifted and talented people–who have significant differences in one or more areas of education curriculum.
Such is the state of “special” education, even today. I spent years working as an education advocate at a not for profit agency, assisting parents in obtaining appropriate–and inclusive–education for their children. And it always was a battle. Despite the fact that the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) specifically states that children be placed in the “Least Restrictive Environment”, and only be moved to a less restrictive setting when the child can’t progress even with the provision of numerous supports and services, school personnel are quick to develop one-size-fits-all “special” classes that meet the needs of “most” students who fall “outside the norms”. They want to “fit the student to the available education” instead of tailoring the education plan to meet the individual and unique needs of the child.
And many if not most parents don’t know what to do when this happens to their child. Many are too intimidated even to question what their school administrators and teachers recommend even if they know intuitively something isn’t quite right.
And so, many children go through school having their right to full inclusion denied. Often they are not even offered the opportunity to participate in arts programs–music, visual art, drama, and the fact is that these are the students who would benefit most from the arts! Students who are involved in arts programs do significantly better in academics and other spheres than students who don’t have access to such programs.
Today, the bottom line is this: the adult systems have changed their focus from separate housing to full community inclusion. Instead of “Sheltered Workshops”, adults with even developmental disabilities are expected to leave the k-21 school system “work ready”, or at the very least ready to continue their vocational education through state and federal programs set up to solidify skills that will enable them to earn a salary even if they continue to receive government benefits. And this means that whether they’ve had the experience of being “included” or not, they are going to be working in an inclusive world. Maybe the world won’t be welcoming at all times, but they are going to be working with people who don’t have disabilities. And they need to be prepared for that.
Furthermore, if people who have never been exposed to the arts, they will have been missing a huge piece of what most of us would consider to be a fully rounded education. They may be completely unaware of the stories that help us all to realize we are not unique, that human beings all have the same emotions, dreams, desires, and the need to connect with others. They will come out of 12 plus years of school without having the shared experiences that would have made them feel connected to, and an integral part of, the larger school community and therefor will have considerably more difficulty integrating themselves into their communities as adults.
Certainly, trying to make up for this huge deficit is phenomenally intimidating, even for those who don’t experience disability, but just haven’t had the time, resources or other limitation that prevented them from having experiences in the arts as children. Try to imagine how difficult it is for people who went through school with a disability!
What is needed is a truly inclusive place for them to experiment. A place that isn’t the same old “this is where people with disabilities can go to feel safe” but a place where people can be part of a full spectrum of humanity–from people who don’t experience significant challenges to people who are extraordinarily challenged in some areas. A place in which everyone is accepted just as they are, where they are, without judgement. That is the only environment in which people can grow–especially people who have been traumatized by their previous experiences in school.
Furthermore, theater is a competitive field. It’s expensive to put together and stage a play. Theater managers must make the most expeditious use of their time and their budgets and simply don’t have the resources to devote to helping people gain the experience they need or even to accommodate for differences, a necessary item for many of those who need such accommodations in order to participate.
Many people, when given a level playing field through the use of appropriate accommodations, would be able to expand their talent and their skills and even grow in their capacity to socialize with an ever increasing circle of acquaintances.
Inclusive theaters such as this–such as ITOWNY— benefit the larger community also. When Congress wrote the IDEA, they accompanied the Act with a statement that reads in part, “..disability is a normal part of the human experience”. They did so because according to statistics, MOST of us will experience disability at some time in our lives. Whether temporary or permanent, MOST of us will at some point experience the limiting effect of an impairment. What kind of world will you want when YOU are the person who experiences the barriers that only those with disabilities are familiar?
This is why Aimée Levesque and I have established Inclusive Theater of WNY. This is why we work so hard at giving people the best teachers, classes and theater experiences in the GENERAL environment.
And THIS is why we are asking for your support. If you are shopping for Mother’s Day, or a buying a gift for a new graduate, I can think of no better way to celebrate than supporting ITOWNY! Through Bravelets, for 30 days you can purchase a bracelet of necklace with the engraving: ‘…be brave’ on it, and 25 % of the purchase price will go directly to Inclusive Theater of WNY. PLEASE take a look by using this link: Bravelets
Please share this with everyone you know! We are ever so grateful for anything you can do to help us realize our vision of full inclusion in the arts–and in the world!