The day before show time, about 35 people of varying ages and abilities are gathered for a dress rehearsal of What a Dream It Was, an interactive theatrical playground for all ages inspired by William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The Toronto show, presented by the Miles Nadal JCC and the Ahuri Theatre along with the Bottom’s Dream Collective, is a theatrical production of an accessible arts program offered at the MNJCC. What a Dream It Was, which runs at the Al Green Theatre from Feb. 16 to Feb. 19, coincides with Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month.
The show is of one of more than 40 events happening across the Toronto area this February, says Liviya Mendelsohn, manager of accessibility and inclusion at the MNJCC. “There will be films, lectures workshops and celebrations to move from awareness to action in making the Jewish community more accessible (www.Jewishtoronto.com/jdaim).”
The MNJCC and the Ahuri Theatre collaboration grew out of a need in the community, Mendelsohn says. “There are not a lot of creative opportunities for adults with disabilities after the age of 18.
“One of the MNJCC’s areas of focus is on young adults, and this production opens doors to self-expression and leadership for this group.”
These participants, or community collaborators, as the Ahuri Theatre calls them, are young adults age 18 to 30 – most of them Jewish – with mixed physical and/or intellectual abilities, Mendelsohn says. “They have gained confidence and are proud to bring their work to the community.”
Before the rehearsal starts, professional musicians, artists, actors and technicians, along with the 16 community collaborators, mill around the ground floor of the theatre, now a de facto stage that has been converted into an interactive, enchanted forest.
A multi-layered lacy canopy covers the stage, audience seating and several accessible interactive stations, where audience members will get to try such things as potion making and shadow performance. In shadow performance, a light shines in such a way that the audience can see the silhouette of the person or image behind a screen.
The stations will be manned by the community collaborators, who sing, act, dance and play a variety of percussion instruments.
Avi Roth, 18, dressed in an elaborate wizard costume, will be at the potions station. Roth likens his role to the one played by Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a segment of the 1940 Disney animated film, Fantasia.
Lita Green, 20, one of the singers, says it was exciting for her to be performing in theatre named for her late grandfather, Al Green.
Amy Siegal, a visual artist who’s part of the collective of artists and musicians engaged by the Ahuri Theatre, notes that the community collaborators, who began in November, have been involved in every element of the production, from creating the set to writing the songs.
Dan Watson, the show’s director and producer, says he and his wife, Christina Serra, were involved in a Paris-based, multilingual theatre collective that found non-verbal ways to communicate on stage in order to transcend language barriers.
He says the couple has since been using these techniques, because their seven-year-old son, Bruno, has cerebral palsy and is non-verbal.
“As theatre artists, we wanted to find ways to use theatre to make it accessible… That’s how this show came about.”
Watson points out they offer an alternate vision of theatre that includes sensory experiences. Audience members can roam about the stage and/or visit the various stations, which offer tactile, visual and audio interactive opportunities.
Watson says the structure of the production is very fluid, so that “it’s OK if it goes off the rails.”
Everyone is quiet at the start of the rehearsal. The show begins with the blast of a shofar.
Professional performers Ken Harrower and Robert Feetham, the show’s narrators/MCs, guide the audience and the performers through the various scenes, which begin with shadow performance art.
The shifting images on the screen are accompanied by music provided by the collaborators and professional musicians. Percussion instruments are also distributed to audience members, who are invited to participate.
When the group assembles at the end of the rehearsal, there are cheers and acknowledgements. “We support each other,” says community collaborator, Chris Tavares, 30. “That’s the way it should be.”
There are two shows daily, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., from Feb. 17 to 19.