A play audience members described as “compelling” and “very effective” featured self-advocates and their stories from southwestern Minnesota. The Other Side is a play about disability and community integration. An original production written by Wilbur Neuschwander-Frink, the play is based on several brainstorming sessions involving self-advocates. Neuschwander-Frink is the regional coordinator and community organizer for The ARC Southwest and the ally for the Olmstead Plan Academy for Minnesota’s Southwest Region.
The 12-month training program helps people become more effective self-advocates. Several projects are being led by self-advocates and support allies from different Minnesota regions. Play performances February 7-8 at Mankato West High School launched Disability Pride and Power, the Southwest Region’s Olmstead Project. About 800 people saw the two performances.
The play and other projects are part of Olmstead Academy organized by Advocating Change Together (ACT). The Olmstead Academy was launched in response to Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan. The plan provides a framework for advancing community integration and the fulfillment of the goal of helping people with disabilities to live, learn, work and enjoy life in the most integrated setting desired.
The Other Side is about two fictional towns on opposite sides of a river and their dispute. The townspeople wanted to build a bridge but fought about how to build it. The play incorporated themes from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.
Self-advocate Leaders Carrie Varner and Nate Clark performed in the play along with more than 60 actors from two local theater groups, United We Stand Players of New Ulm and Aktion Club Theater. Aktion is a troupe of self-advocates and their supporters, sponsored by the Downtown Mankato Kiwanis Club. The Arc Minnesota Southwest is the home of United We Stand Players.
“There were no stars and no tryouts. Everyone who wanted to had an opportunity to be involved,” said Neuschwander-Frink.
As part of the Olmstead Academy project launch, the Southwest Region team also unveiled their its logo designed by Steve Peck, a self-advocate from Central Minnesota. The logo features people against a bright sun design and is featured on Disability Pride T-shirts. Actors wore and sold shirts after the shows. Others handed out fliers about their project.
“In the SW region people are very excited about integration. This play was re-energizing for self-advocates,” said Neuschwander-Frink.
Another Olmstead project in the southwestern Minnesota will be to establish Born This Way Here To Stay groups in Redwood Falls and Marshall. These are patterned on a similar Mankato group that has operated for about two years. Clark, Varner and Neuschwander-Frink will act as consultants to the two new areas.
The groups will involve a panel of four individuals with disabilities who tell their stories at schools, churches, community centers and other venues. Audience members can then ask questions of the panelists. Disability Pride will be promoted through education using interactive tools for kids such as skits, color pages and songs.
“I’m glad we’re doing Disability Pride and Power. It helps people with disabilities feel good about themselves and know they have nothing to be ashamed of,” said Varner.
For more information about the Olmstead Academy, contact the ACT Office at 651-641-0297 or go online at www.selfadvocacy.org The ARC SW provides support and advocacy for kids and adults with disabilities across south central and southwestern Minnesota. For more information about ARC, visit www.arcmnsw.org