It was like walking onto the set of High School Musical … there are people milling about, laughing and joking around, spinning playfully in wheelchairs and then, boom, cohesion breaks out into a delightful musical number on a plywood stage.
Then Brian Fidler, the director of Tell Me More…, says, “OK, now get up or just roll off the stage.”
The piece they are rehearsing at the Yukon Association for Community Living office/studio is called Snow in Summer. It begins with Charlie Wilson and Brit Cowper at the edge of the audience – in this case, the stage crew – grabbing their attention with their wonder.
Perched two levels up, Andrea McColeman’s music is helping to create a soundscape for this dream sequence. She is playing a synthesizer, but the work in progress could be played by a guitar, a piano and drums when the show, Tell Me More…, is presented at the Old Fire Hall April 23 to 26.
“I like the snowballs,” Fidler says. Then he asks Michael Vi Adar to sing one of her two songs, The Hippo Song.
She delights the entire room as cast and crew watch from chairs, wheelchairs and sitting on the floor.
“If you see someone you know,” says Fidler after the song, “you can sit on their lap.”
“Can I?” shouts Vi Adar with mock excitement as the room laughs with her.
Afterward, Vi Adar says her other song is Love Song for Fangorn: “Women write what’s important to them and things we are fixated on. For me, it’s Tolkien.”
The rehearsal is nearing an end and Cheri Wilson is led to the stage where she folds up her white cane and carefully places it on a chair. The chair is positioned so that she knows which way the audience is.
She belts out May the Moon Shine and the only other sound is McColeman’s guitar. The rapt attention is broken at the end with a hearty round of applause.
Fidler calls the cast and crew for some last-minute notes and to say goodnight. One of the performers walks up to him, hugs him, and says, “Thank you.”
Later, Fidler says, “Hey, it’s a different environment.
“Everyone’s hearts are on their sleeves.”
One of the goals of this performing troupe, “Ynklude”, is to “include” those with intellectual disabilities in the arts community.
Fidler is a member of the arts community and he was given the chance to work with Ynklude for the first time. So, he was the outsider here.
Not a problem, he says. “They are a really open group.
“You come in with good energy and they’ll greet you with good energy.”
McColeman, too, was a first-timer: “I came in right at the beginning and it’s been more about the process with games and exercises.
“We wanted to see how we work as a group,” says the music director.
“We just wanted to see where the strengths are.
“But this group … I am just in love with each and every one of them. They don’t see their disabilities as problems. There is no shellac, no pretending to be anything else than who they are.”
Jude Wong, a local dancer/choreographer, says she is also a “movement coach” for Tell Me More…
“The learning curve has been quite amazing; we are working with such a diverse range of skills and weaknesses.
“It took quite a while to get to know everyone and to find the performances that bring out their best.
“I didn’t have any information going in; I didn’t know the material they wanted to work with and, so, I embraced that and dived in with no pre-conceived ideas.”
One of those new things is the wheelchairs.
Wong gasps. “They are so much fun! They are platforms on wheels!”
She says the movements are similar to aerial dance with a “whole new range of movement” that cannot be found without wheels.
One dance has Julie Robinson, the inclusion co-ordinator for YACL, riding with Carrie Rudolph on one of those wheelchairs. The connection between the two of them is touching and beautiful.
“I showed Jude some turns and how it glides,” says Rudolph. The two of them created the dance together in an equal partnership.
After 40 years of working on educational and employment opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities, Robinson says it was time to help them become fuller members of the community.
“We could not think of one person with an intellectual disability who was participating in the arts,” says Robinson.
“We are building up a repertoire and creating relationships with the arts community.”
One of those relationships is with the co-producer, Gwaandak Theatre, which has a track record that includes Sixty Below, Carnaval and Where the River Meets the Sea.
Patti Flather, the co-artistic director of Gwaandak Theatre, helped create the material during workshops. She is also one of the performers.
“I just love getting the stories and voices up on the stage,” says Flather, “especially of those we don’t normally see onstage.
“I am a firm believer that everyone has a story.”
The result of this co-operation is best seen in a dance to the song, Bridges and Balloons. Audiences will see smiles and concentration, dancers trusting each other, and performers working so hard just to allow the others to look so good.
Tickets for Tell Me More… are available at the Yukon Arts Centre box office and Arts Underground. Performances are at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, April 24 and 25, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday.