NET/TEN Shareback: Ezzell Floranina - Tutorial: On How and Why to Integrate and Include People with Dis-ability Labels

Spring 2016 Travel Grant Recipient

Ezzell Floranina (Shutesbury, MA) of ETTA International-The Rainbow Players visited The Lawnmowers Independent Theatre Company (Gateshead-upon-Tyne, United Kingdom) a like-minded performing arts troupe exploring creative devising, actor-centered works and sustainability. During her visit, Floranina engaged in daily training, taught shadow puppetry, and shared ideas around the co-creation of new works using Skype, digital media and the internet. Additionally, she re-engaged with other troupes met on previous trips to the UK and Ireland, whose players are labeled as disabled to look at their creative survival in tough economic times and at establishing an International Network of Performing Arts Troupes dedicated to maintaining full access to the arts for all abilities.


Tutorial:  On How and Why to Integrate and Include People with Dis-ability Labels

By Ezzell Floranina

First, you notice that I don’t place “disability” as a modifier or adjective to a person. They have labels that carry weight in society in terms of how they are seen and the ways that the label carries deeply imbedded ideas of limitations. I state “ideas” of limitations on purpose here, also. Because “dis-ability” is a mindset that has many years of supposedly fixing a kind of “truth” or acceptable description in place.  My work has shown me that these labels are extremely misleading and limiting- both for the person who is labeled and for the person(s) who accept the label as a descriptive term.  I won’t get into the deeper layers of the fallacy here except to say that many dance, theater and performance companies across Europe are proving this a false start for the ways that many creative individuals may be discounted as unlikely partners in your creative work.

The work I witnessed on my travel to Ireland and the UK, proved what I believed to be true, but I was able to see it embodied in professional touring companies, listed in the links provided below. Check them out!  You will be amazed, impressed and hopefully moved to shift your own thinking and expectations about possibilities of being an inclusive performing company or artist.

This video clip of Pady O’Connor (MeeMee Theatre) offering a Comedia introduction to a man who has never donned a mask in his life, shows clearly the power of making serious creative skills available to people of all abilities.

10 min version
4 min version

Jessie Brett Dance Co. also shows in a very short clip, some of the amazing work that she is doing with people of varying abilities, creatively utilizing the elbow crutches of one woman as a power movement prop for different dancers.


The work of The Lawnmowers Independent Theatre Co. and The Blue Teapot are similarly focused on increasing the inclusion of all abilities in serious performing arts through Comedia, clowning, music and Shakespeare

Here are some guidelines for successfully finding ways to be inclusive:

• Look beyond the label to know that each person has creative potential.  It is up to us as directors and choreographers, to be actively exploring a wide palette of creative options.  By presenting and thinking “outside of the box”, discoveries will be made.

• Begin to transform your own expectations so that this palette of options fully embrace the potential of each person or student that may “present” with different ways of moving or communicating. 

I witnessed actors with a wide range of ability labels, doing very powerful scenes from King Lear and Hamlet. The director was a man with more than 40 years of Shakespearean experience, calling on them to clearly enunciate each syllable, even when the speaker has difficulty as in a person with Down Syndrome, who may need to work a bit harder to get the words correctly enunciated.The range of work done by companies at HIjinx Unity Festival was amazing to me- a veteran of the field for over 30 yrs.
• Outreach, outreach, outreach… Take extraordinary measures to reach out to the community where you live, to engage with potential actors or performers with disability labels. 

The world has not been a place that welcomes all abilities but is set up in a manner to block participation in an area that leans heavily on a certain code of “better” or “less”, based on some gradation of ratings. At the school level, youth with disability labels are most often held to “chorus” roles, if on stage at all.

• Please drop the language that boxes a person or child into the label.  They are NOT the label.  The label is imposed to deliver services but does not describe the “whole person” that has dreams and hopes of living a full and creative life.  We are all people with differing abilities.

Avoid using “disabled” as an adjective before describing a person- in fact, avoid using the words at all, if possible. Every person has some level of “disability”- use of glasses, contacs, cane, wheelchair, learning difference- which are not necessary to call attention to.  If you are not providing services as in home care or accessibility, you can eliminate identifying your members with language that triggers the society into thinking “less than”.

Improvisation offers a great range of possibilities to see new actor capabilities. You will see language abilities and social consciousness in terms of actions chosen for a given improv exercise.  I love working with the forms of Augusto Boal- “Games for Actors and Non-actors” and “Theatre of the Oppressed”- which give many kinds of options for scene set ups.

I watched The Lawnmowers utilize some of Boal’s methods in their theater work as they looked at the issues around “Brexit”.  I was there before and after the vote.  They used a physical theater game to show the push and pull of the arguments being presented all over the country. The director and staff were supporting people to go out and vote and wanted them to be informed from an ‘organic’ way of experiencing the issues through scene work.

Create access in your program offerings and in your companies!  More and more around the country, parents of children and adults with developmental disability labels are seeking the arts as an enrichment source. This has an added benefit of empowering youth and adults who are labeled to go out and pursue a life with more options.  They are beginning to see themselves on TV and film more frequently.  Be a part of that wave!  You will be delighted by the art inherent in each person, no matter what the label!


Download a photo album from the visits here!


The Lawnmowers Independent Theater Company (Gateshead Upon Tyne, UK):

• Celebrated their 30th Anniversary, June 2016- 30 years of offering social justice based theater and performing arts skill training to youth and adults with “learning difficulties” or developmental disability labels.  
• Have taken over an old town hall, transforming rooms to a dance space, music improvisation room, mime and mask theater hall, and a large room to present shows to small audiences.
• Dedicated to collaborative process and product, involving the actors as stakeholders in all decision making.
• Involve local artists as teachers and collaborative performers in creating a diverse palette of performing arts skills: hip hop and break dance; musical improvisation with percussion instruments of high quality mixed with instruments made out of found objects, like mechanics wrenches, glass bowls, scrap metal, home-made xylophones and more; mime and mask performance with Del Arte half masks as well as giant puppets.
• Have established performing relationships with groups in other countries such as Brazil.
• Utilize the day to day issues such as Brexit, the vote on whether the UK should leave the European Union, as an opportunity to build in confidence and empowerment that all voices matter.

Practices:  Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed and Rainbow of Desire. Clown, Mime and Mask performance skill building. Percussion training and Dance training. All individuals are able to register for a nominal fee to take any of the above trainings. These core trainings offer any acting company a wide range of skills. 

Sustainability: Through the years and networking with area artists and performing arts companies, the core ensemble travels and continues to build a repertoire that has been performed at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, all over the UK and Scotland in open air events, locally in the major performing arts halls and traveling to Brazil to learn about samba and the art of the drum.

The Blue Teapot (Galway, Ireland):

• Over 15 years in existence, supported by a prominent order of religious monks.  Artistic Director and teaching staff maintain creative independence in programming.
• Own their offices and black box theater space as well as rooms for creation and skills trainings.
• Engage experienced professional actors and teachers in creating works of Shakespeare and other major theatrical productions.
• Developed a college level theater curriculum that has been accredited by the country’s education department.
• Involved with performing troupes in the UK and in Europe, in collaborative efforts to make theater accessible for people of all abilities.

Practices: Performing actors study Shakespeare, dance, costume-making and design, as well as other classical theater training methods.  Engaging local artists as teacher-trainers yields high levels of acting abilities. 

Sustainability:  The Brothers of Charity provide the primary base of funding, along with other major organizations in Ireland.  The Blue Teapot is seeking independent non-profit charity status presently.

Encore Productions (Dundalk, Ireland):

• In operation for more than 15 years.
• Housed in a large building with a full kitchen for cooking classes and community lunches with large rooms for making props and costumes, theater classes and planning. 
• Convenient downtown location for ease of access for those using the buses and for those who work in supportive work situations
• Dedicated to involving as many diverse abilities as exist in their local community, sometimes accommodating more than 50 individuals in one stage production.

Practices: Creative writing is a basic practice so that all actors are involved in the development of scripts and staging. The program is part of a larger social service organization- Rehab Care. A staged production may have 50 to 60 actors on stage with supportive volunteers that may participate as musicians or staging. 

Sustainability: The performance company forms from a large community day program, some of which is dedicated to the theater and arts focus.  With this base, the company has freedom to develop creatively.  It has its downfall, however, as the agency is such a huge corporate entity, having programs all over Ireland and in the UK.


Ezzell Floranina
Artistic Director, The Rainbow Players


Posted by: 
Wednesday, July 12, 2017

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