Theatre Workshop Aids the Handicapped

By Lefevre, Patricia | National Catholic Reporter, August 15, 1997 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Theatre Workshop Aids the Handicapped


Lefevre, Patricia, National Catholic Reporter


NEW YORK -- Like a few thousand other theater people, Rick Curry got an invitation to Broadway's coveted Tony Awards ceremony in June. Although he didn't wear a tux, a ring in his ear or nose or even have his hair pulled back in a ponytail, he was easy to spot.

He was wearing black clericals with one empty sleeve in his suit jacket. "No accident. Some reporters get it wrong," the Jesuit brother told NCR. "I was born without a right forearm."

With a comic's quick-draw timing, Curry added, "It's a bizaree disability. I didn't go to a school for one-armed persons. This doesn't stop you from doing anything." He paused. "But it stops you from doing everything."

Nobody knows that better than Curry, 54, who, as a hard-up doctoral candidate at New York University, got bumped from auditioning for a hamburger commercial because he lacked a limb. Dumb-founded at being turned away not on merit, but due to prejudice, he founded the National Theatre Workshop for the Handicapped 20 years ago. It is believed to be the only such workshop.

The project will take its most ambitious leap this month when it opens a year-around residential school in Belfast, Maine.

Some 1,000 handicapped students have attended Curry's acting workshops since 1977. Over three years they study music, voice, oral interpretation, movement and dance, writing plays, theater management and technical productions with a staff of professionals. For this they pay $125 per semester if they can.

The workshop runs its own studio in New York's Chinatown. It's the group's sixth address and now its permanent New York home -- a wheelchair's spin from Curry's own loft apartment.

Few have made it into the competitive show biz world, curry admitted. But several work in community theaters or as booking agents. A handful have done commercials and fashion modeling, while a number have garnered small parts in soap operas and even in a segment of "Cagney & Lacy" and "The Cosby Show." Some workshop students also appeared in the film "Awakenings."

"We're great in those hospital and deathbed scenes. We were made for them," said Curry.

Sandi Francis, who directs the NTWH's Children's Theatre Workshop, declared, "We're not a hand-holding school." Listening to her powerful voice in a cabaret rendition of "Don't Fence Me In," spectators are thrilled with the singing and amazed at her footwork. Francis, who recently gave birth to Xavier, the workshop's first baby, wears leg braces -- the result of a bout with swine flu in high school.

No excuses

The National Theatre Workshop for the Handicapped is not a therapeutic program, either, she said, though many students -- herself included -- have found their self-esteem and ability to interact in personal situations much enhanced. "We stress that if you want to act, you leave your excuses at the door," she said. "The rules are come on time, learn your lines, never miss a rehearsal or audition."

Workshop training focuses on self-expression. It helps students achieve a feeling of accomplishment, of dignity and fulfillment, Curry said. When an audience laughs, cries or claps, performers experience a sense success, of being valued, he added.

"This theater is about giving to the disabled an education and training to provide for themselves," he said. "The skills one learns in acting are transferable to the marketplace and world of jurisprudence," said Curry, who knows firsthand. His father sent him to acting lessons at age 7 in Philadelphia, in the hope he might become a lawyer. He still counts it as among the best things that has ever come his way -- and Curry is one who tallies his blessings.

For centuries, he noted, disability has been viewed as a negative, and only recently have people begun to speak of it not as a negative but as a way of understanding what it means to be alive. For persons with disabilities, it is better to be alive and different than not alive at all, he said.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Theatre Workshop Aids the Handicapped
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?