Thursday, July 3, 2014

University of Guelph Professor's New Play Explores Myths of Living With a Disability


A new play written by a University of Guelph professor along with nine wheelchair users will be performed in Toronto this month. Judith Thompson’sBorne will run at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until July 19.
This is the second offering by her Rare Theatre Company in association with Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre. Her company creates unique pieces with people who have been marginalized, Thompson said.
In Borne, the actors tell their stories in their own words, and explore the myths and preconceptions of living with a disability.
“These performers are not professional actors, but they are simply brilliant -- provocative and radical,” Thompson said.
The stories are only a part of the experience, she added. Also important are the complicated and powerful emotions expressed through voice, eyes, hands and breath, and even through the movements of wheelchairs in sync.
“And every story is a radical expression of what it means to be disabled in this world,” she said.
“Everything I thought I knew about not walking, plus all the other issues, is exploded and shattered and in pieces.”
A respected playwright, director, screenwriter, actor and producer, Thompson writes complex and sometimes disturbing plays that give voice to human failings and accomplishments.
This spring, she portrayed three characters in her own one-woman play,Watching Glory Die. That work was based on the story of Canadian teenager Ashley Smith, who committed suicide while in a women’s prison.
Thompson also wrote and directed Rare, a docudrama about Down syndrome that featured nine cast members with the disorder. The first offering of her Rare Theatre Company, the production won “Best of Fringe” at the 2012 Toronto Fringe Festival.
A faculty member in U of G’s School of English and Theatre Studies since 1992, Thompson has won the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award and was the first Canadian to win the international Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.
She has been nominated twice for a Genie Award and for the Dora Mavor Moore Awards, was a finalist for the inaugural Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, won the Floyd S. Chalmers Canadian Play Award, and is a two-time winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama.
An Officer of the Order of Canada, Thompson was also the subject of a book,The Masks of Judith Thompson, by U of G theatre studies professor Ric Knowles.