An active teenage boy has a serious accident that leaves him with a permanent brain injury. He spends his young adulthood dwelling on the new limitations of his life. He’s angry at the world. Despite his frustrations, he makes it past an audition and joins a little theater company made up of people with all kinds of disabilities. He struggles to take direction and agitates others in the company, hiding his anger under a tough-guy persona.
The young man’s name is Tom Koesling. The group is Interact Theater. And the breakthrough for Tom came at a theater festival in Vancouver. Toward the end of the festival, Tom attended a panel discussion about disability culture and what it’s like to be an artist with a disability.
“Tom looks over at me with tears streaming down his face,” said Jeanne Calvit, Interact’s artistic director, “and he says, ‘Jeanne, thank you. I understand now. I have a role to play.’ He saw his new place in the world. Suddenly everything made sense.”
Effects of Interact: People who were silent find their voice. People who were once invisible find their place in society. People who see the work and hear the stories of Interact’s artists leave with their feelings about disability forever changed.
“That power to connect with individuals in the company and in the audience is the foundation on which Interact Theater operates,” Calvit says. “And it’s why Interact is going to the Above and Beyond Festival in Cheltenham, England on September 19-21.” Twenty-four actors with disabilities, staff and a two-person video team will make the trip, including a quick cultural visit to London and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
“This is huge for Interact, because it will give us an international presence,” Calvit says. While Interact members will meet other performers from companies composed of people sharing the same disability, Interact is the only theater company that includes a full range of disabilities among its performers. Furthermore, Interact develops original material that transcends those disabilities—this focus on abilities, in turn, shapes both the content and performances of Interact shows. Its satiric and professional sensibility sets Interact’s work apart from other theaters working with disability issues. Calvit says her shows are not angry or didactic, but rather they address political and social issues with humor, music and irony—and it’s all presented with the honesty audiences have come to expect from the performers.
A recent audience member from England said, “If you could get this in the West End (London’s equivalent of Broadway in New York) it would run forever.” With such political dissent in the U.S., Calvit said Interact has potential to connect even more strongly with European audiences. Connection is the role Interact plays every day among its performers, with its Twin Cities and regional audiences, and across international and all other borders.
Note: Interact still needs to raise $4,000 for its cultural visit to London. Cash donations will help Interact earn an existing $1,000 matching grant. A gift of airline tickets or frequent flyer miles would also be helpful. Contact Calvit at 612-339-5145 or 212 Third Ave. N., Ste. 140, Mpls., MN 55401.