The complex relationships of brothers and sisters, clients and caregivers, and mothers and sons – all of whom are either living with disability or caring for a disabled person - will be played out on stage by the subjects themselves in Alex Silberblatt’s R"ulebreaking: Disability as Performance," the latest production by the NYU Steinhardt Drama Therapy program.

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The complex relationships of brothers and sisters, clients and caregivers, and mothers and sons – all of whom are either living with disability or caring for a disabled person - will be played out on stage in Alex Silberblatt’s Rulebreaking: Disability as Performance, the latest production by the NYU Steinhardt Drama Therapy program.

Focusing on the stories of four real-life “couples,” all of whom will be performing in the actual production, Rulebreaking lays bare the issues surrounding the deeper meaning of care, the lack of agency over one’s body, the frustration of inequality experienced by people living with developmental disabilities, and the push-pull of protection vs. autonomy. Performances will be held November 12-15 at the Provincetown Playhouse. Visit here to purchase tickets.

Rulebreaking is the latest production in NYU Drama Therapy’s As Performance series, which was established in 2011, funded in part by a grant from the Billy Rose Foundation to explore the therapeutic value of live performance as an instrument of healing. Between 2011 and 2015, the program produced 22 therapeutic theater productions that served as living inquiries into the experiences of surviving cancer, the aftermath of suicide, and bullying among other life challenges.

“A premise of the work is that experience is written on the body and enters relationships, and so may be understood as a script that is best revealed and revised as performance,” said Robert Landy, director of the Drama Therapy Program at NYU. “The questions at the heart of the As Performance series are: How does performance transform the therapeutic encounter? How can performance be leveraged as an effective therapeutic tool?”

Rulebreaking is directed by Nick Brunner, and includes Drama Therapy faculty Maria Hodermarska together with her son, Ethan Jones; Drama Therapy faculty Dr. Cecilia Dintino with her son, Bernardo Carlucci; siblings Lily Houghton and Henry Houghton; and Residential Program Administrator, Craig Becker with his Resident, Delia Camden. Other collaborators include Maya Rose Hormadaly, Bryant Reyonolds and Gabriella Rhodeen. Lindsey Snyder is production stag manager and Ming Yan Low of the Nordoff Robbins Center for music therapy serves as music director.

According to Hodermarska, the title "Rulebreaking" is derived from the play’s deliberate circumventing of some standard and accepted professional therapeutic and theatrical practices.

“We’re breaking the rules around what a play can be. We’re breaking rules around what we can discuss with each other when we are on the stage, like identity or diagnoses, and the very human embarrassment, frustration and fumbling love we feel for each other. And we are celebrating with humor the desire to rebel and break rules.” says Hodermarska. “Building therapeutic theater, standing shoulder to shoulder, examining the marginalization that we experience in living with a disability or caring for someone who does, is clinical and dramatic risk-taking. We activate a theatrical form of truth telling that is difficult to give voice to and sometimes difficult to bear. But the end result changes everyone in some way.”

Specifically speaking, Rulebreaking examines the following relationships:

Delia Camden, a transgender woman who is also living with a developmental disability. She is fighting to obtain the medical and legal support to live as a woman and undergoes her transition with the help of her Program Administrator of almost 30 years, Craig Becker;
Henry Houghton, a 22 year-old man who is living on the autism spectrum disorder and his sister, actress, playwright and college student Lily Houghton;
• Drama therapist Hodermarska, and her 21-year-old son, Ethan Jones who is also a person living on the autism spectrum; and
• Drama therapist Cecelia Dintino and her 12 year old son, Bernardo Carlucci who is a person living with learning disabilities.

In addition to being a therapeutic exercise, Rulebreaking – like its predecessors – also contributes to academic research centered around the impact of disability on emotional intimacy in relationship. All participants function as co-researchers/collaborators in the inquiry process. Participants entered the research in relationship (parent/child, sibling/sibling, direct support staff/consumer). Using drama therapeutic and applied theater processes - including free-associative improvisation, role reversal, monologue and scene writing, and use of actual developmental evaluations – participants have effectively distilled their real experiences, which were ultimately scripted into Silberblatt’s full length play.

The result is a powerful and intimate one-hour play that reveals and celebrates the complexities and challenges involved in relationships with people living with disabilities and those who care for them. The almost 12-month engagement of rehearsals culminates in five public performances at the Provincetown Playhouse:

  • Thursday, November 12, 8 PM
  • Friday, November 13, 8 PM
  • Saturday, November 14 at 2 PM and 8pm
  • Sunday, November 15 at 2pm

Provincetown Playhouse is located at 133 MacDougal Street in Manhattan. Admission is: $15, $5 for students & seniors. For tickets, contact NYU Box Office online at http://tickets.nyu.edu/single/eventDetail.aspx?p=2441.

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