Three and a half years ago, an eager, first-year Dramatic Arts student at Brock had a brilliant idea. Now in his fourth year, Justin Reesor has coordinated the premiere of his original play Are You Able?, which seeks to be the first accurate representation of someone with a physical disability in theater for “45 years” acording to Reesor.
The play follows Justice Able Rightman (played by Ivan Nikolic, a second year Recreation and Leisure Studies student), who goes by “Able”. Able is a drama student and passionately devout Christian: the play follows his university experience as a person with a physical disability through the victories, struggles and discrimination.
Able becomes friends with Jon (Geoffrey Verrier), who has social anxiety and a love for comic books and nerd culture. The two young men confront the stereotypical bully, Robbie (Sumer Seth) multiple times, as the three of them grow together throughout the play.
The story takes audiences through the beginning of Able and Jon’s somewhat tumultuous first romantic relationships to Violet (Ucheana Edozie-Egbuna) and Hope (Candice Burn).
“In this play we use stereotypes almost ironically, because of the fact that they are so stereotypical. [The] stereotypes put on people can be so unbelievable and unrealistic, and it’s kind of a play on it—the way we present some of these characters” said Verrier.
The main character, Able, is a stereotype of a conservative, creationist, with relationships to other one-dimensional traditionally stereotypical character archetypes, such as the nerd (Jon) and the popular girl (Hope). This has the unfortunate side-effect of flattening nuance and presenting a post-truth and postfeminist perspective which may turn off contemporary audiences and obscure the intended message of understanding.
Ressor claimed that with Able, he wanted to ask audiences “‘what if we look past the part that he is being religious?’, ‘what if we saw deeper into this idea that he finds his stability in that, to go on in the world?’ Specifically, I didn’t want to lead people to faith, like ‘oh, you need religion’, what it’s trying to do is to help them understand it in a safe manor, because if we can understand religion then we see where people come from.”
More importantly, however, Reesor wants people to take away an awareness of mental and physical disabilities. He wants to give representation to people who are not represented at all in popular culture and theatre.
Within Brock, Verrier said that there are lots of changes to be made and they are working hard to make them. Verrier and Reesor made a 15-minute video for Brock faculty to explain some of the ways the institution is failing to be an open place for people with physical disabilities. Changes were made quickly and the faculty seemed supportive, but Verrier was surprised when students seemed indifferent to the issue.
“That’s what this problem is, it’s not the teachers, it’s not the institutions, it’s the students that haven’t had this education for so long that they don’t know how to care,” said Verrier.
“We’re looking a physical and mental disabilities of challenges and the ways that people overcome them, so we’re looking at the positive light of these things, instead of just the negative things … Justin and I actually have been looking very closely into physical disability on this campus, and the ways in which we can get a better grasp of it. Because of the fact that, if Justin wasn’t in my year, I would not know how to deal with somebody in a chair,” continued Verrier.
The play had four total showings from March 17 to March 19 in Studio A at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts and was the debut of Reesor’s script and direction. All admittance was pay-what-you-can and all proceeds went to Reesor’s hometown theatre company, Theatre Orangeville’s Special Needs theatre program which helps the program fund getting the facilities needed and extra help workers for the the children with disabilities so they can learn how to act with a disability.