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Posts Tagged ‘Perkins School for the Blind’

Last week, I performed in a one-night-only show that I couldn’t wait to do.  It’s a show that unites Revels, Inc., the remarkable dance-music-theatre organization that brings the arts and education together in wonderful ways, with the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA — the school that educated Annie Sullivan and later, Helen Keller.  Revels and Perkins have had a close relationship for eleven years.  That relationship extends to the Revels Music Director, George Emlen, teaching the Perkins students many pieces from the Revels repertoire, focused on the spring, May Day, and (in some years) the sea.  Education director Michelle Roderick has also worked with the students, showing them what a sword dance ‘feels’ like, how May Day is celebrated in the British Isles, and more.

Into this, the Revels Repertory Company performers come (including me), to partner with Perkins students and sing traditional songs including “The Helston Furry,” “The Padstow May Song,” the medieval “Miri it Is,” “Mairi’s Wedding,” and more.  We are accompanied by members of our children’s company, dancing and singing and making merry (miri) through the aisles of the auditorium.  David Coffin, the mainstay of the Christmas Revels productions, is there to play his recorder and lead the audience in several pieces.  But the Perkins students are the real stars of this show.

All of them are blind or partially sighted.  A number have hearing loss or other challenges as well.  They have all worked hard to learn the music for this show, and they are excited to be performing with us.  Carefully we teach our partners how to perform the Circassian Circle Dance, counting out the beats for them and calling the steps.  We narrate what’s happening on stage, what’s coming next in the show, where we have to move, how many steps to walk down to move from stage to floor level.  It takes awareness and sensitivity and skills one doesn’t ordinarily call on to make everything work.

Perkins has existed for over 175 years.  With Samuel Gridley Howe as one of the school’s guiding lights and Charles Dickens as one of its champions, the institution has a remarkable history and offers services that now reach around the globe, serving blind, deaf-blind, and visually challenged individuals.  The Perkins slogan is, “All we see are possibilities.”  When I work with the Perkins students, so many of those possibilities become clear, and they overtake the challenges.  These students are enthusiastic, willing, and excited to be involved with Revels.

Too often we tend to think about individuals with physical or emotional challenges as disabled, lacking the ability to participate.  But in this venture between Revels and Perkins, it becomes clear that the students really are differently abled…and it’s up to us to find the best ways to unlock the potential that’s there.

For me, this is a huge gift, an opportunity to stretch in different ways, share my joy of the performing arts with someone new.  And it’s hard to beat the pleasure of performing in front of an audience of excited Perkins students, faculty, and most of all, parents, weeping with joy as they watch their children doing things they never believed were possible.  More than this, the students themselves find that they can do things they were yearning to attempt.  One student, John Castillo, has an absolutely first-rate baritone voice and is a gifted percussionist.  Another is a smashing violinist.  Still another plays the accordion with great ease and ability.

The Revels partnership, which brings the remarkable directing skills of Artistic Director Patrick Swanson to the Perkins productions along with Emlin’s musical talents, exposes the Perkins students to music and theatre in energizing, thrilling form.

I walked away from the evening grateful for the work of my partner, Marta, and thrilled to have had a chance to work with the Perkins students and faculty members.  And all around, I have to agree that — with this partnership — there’s nothing but possibility for all who helped this one-night-only production get onstage.

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