The complex relationship between brothers and sisters, clients and caregivers, and mothers and sons – all of whom are either living with disability or caring for a disabled person – was played out on stage in Alec Silberblatt’s Rule Breaking: Disability as Performance, the latest production by the NYU Steinhardt Drama Therapy program.
Rule Breaking told the story of four real-life couples, who also performed in the actual production. The play looked at their frustrations; the push-pull conflict inherent in needing protection and wanting autonomy, and the inequalities they faced in their daily lives.
Rule Breaking was the latest production in NYU Drama Therapy’s As Performance series, which was established in 2011 –and funded in part through 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, and 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 As Performance series asks us: How does performance transform the therapeutic encounter? How can performance be leveraged as an effective therapeutic tool?”
Directed by Nick Brunner, Rule Breaking included Drama Therapy faculty member Maria Hodermarska and her son, Ethan Jones; Drama Therapy faculty member Dr. Cecilia Dintino and her son, Bernardo Carlucci; siblings Lily Houghton and Henry Houghton; and Craig Becker, residential program administration and his charge, Delia Camden. Other collaborators included Maya Rose Hormadaly, Bryant Reyonolds and Gabriella Rhodeen. Lindsey Snyder was production stage manager and Ming Yan Low of the Nordoff Robbins Center for music therapy served as music director.
According to Hodermarska, the title, “Rule Breaking,” was 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’re celebrating with humor the desire to rebel and break rules.” said Hodermarska.
She noted that “standing shoulder-to-shoulder” and building a therapeutic performance piece that examines the marginalization often experienced by those who of live with a disability or care for someone who does, can be 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,” Hodermarska said. “The performance changes everyone in some way.”
Rule Breaking told the stories of:
• 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.
Using drama therapeutic and applied theater processes – including free-associative improvisation, role reversal, monologue and scene writing, and use of actual developmental evaluations – participants shared their real experiences, which were scripted into Silberblatt’s full-length play.
The result was a powerful and intimate one-hour play that revealed and celebrated 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 culminated in five public performances at the Provincetown Playhouse in November 2015.
(Photo: Delia Camden and Craig Becker (top image; bottom) will be exploring their relationship in the NYU Steinhardt drama therapy production of Rule Breaking. Photos: Debra Weinstein.)