Inside Out fights back

Theatre company provides a stage for disabled actors

The entire world may be a stage but the men and women of Inside Out Theatre are not merely players. Offering people with disabilities programs where they write and perform their own shows is certainly an important part of the company’s mandate but it also teaches them how to fight discrimination build relationships and fulfil their potential.

“Oh my goodness I could go on forever about this” says new artistic director and occasional Fast Forward Weekly contributor Andrew Torry of Inside Out’s impact. “The benefits are huge.”

Participating in theatre Torry believes helps people with disabilities in a variety of ways. It usually features interaction with others which can be a challenge. It reduces self-consciousness because it often requires doing silly things in front of an audience. And the role-playing involved helps prepare them for difficult situations they may encounter in society. “They rehearse a scene where they stand up for themselves they encounter a situation in real life where someone is manipulating them or bullying them or mistreating them in some way and they are that much more prepared to stand up for themselves.”

Although this is easier for some of the participants than others Torry’s careful never to leave anyone out. He recalls a recent program where he found a way for a developmentally impaired man who couldn’t speak or gesture to participate using the skills he had.

“The challenge is… to make sure that he’s always included and then of course the second challenge is recognizing his need recognizing the impairment that he’s dealing with and finding a way to work with that and saying ‘OK so you can’t speak how else can you express yourself? Can you express what’s going on right now can you play the scene with a facial expression and can we see your character’s intent?’”

It is in fact something many of the people who attend Inside Out’s productions have never seen before. Although the company doesn’t always perform for the public its shows — which often feature tongue-in-cheek titles such as Kiss My AISH Goodbye — have opened audience members’ eyes to both the issues people with disabilities face and the talents they possess.

“They may know somebody who is a person with mixed abilities or they may be a person with mixed abilities themselves and to see people with mixed abilities onstage performing that is very exciting” says Torry. “It’s like ‘I didn’t know that could happen.’”

Although pleased with Inside Out’s growth since its founding two decades ago Torry wants to increase its profile. He believes there are plenty of organizations serving people with disabilities that would readily work with the company if they knew about it.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met somebody from another disability organization and they’ve said to me ‘Oh wow you do theatre for people with disabilities? That’s amazing’” he says.

But theatre almost seems too narrow a term for what Inside Out does. Treading the boards may be the starting point for participants but as Torry notes “life is a performance.”

“Working with them in general is really rewarding” he says. “But to see them go somewhere new to take a risk tell their story and to gain more self-confidence or whatever that in itself is great.”