A great diversity experience – Theater Breaking Through Barriers

Two of the actors featured in “The Artificial Jungle,” David Harrell and Anita Hollander

NOTE: The play featured in this blog runs through July 1st at the Clurman Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street, New York City. Link to Theater Breaking Through Barriers for information and tickets.

In early June, my mother and I took a quick weekend trip to New York City so she could have a reunion with her best friend from college from the early 1950s. Since that was planned for Sunday, I arranged for us to see an off-Broadway play on Saturday afternoon, Charles Ludlam’s “The Artificial Jungle” in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company.

The play was a combination comedy and thriller featuring only five characters. Nerdy Chester, his attractive over-sexed wife Roxanne and his doting mother all live together and run a pet shop in New York City selling exotic animals. They are looking for some additional help with the store and hire sexy mysterious Zach. Zach and Roxanne have an affair and then plot to kill off Chester by throwing him into the piranha tank. The 5th character is Chester’s best friend Frankie, a good hearted but somewhat incompetent policeman. Do read this fascinating synopsis and review from the NY Times from when the play first ran in 1986.

Anthony Michael Lopez (Zach) and Alyssa H. Chase (Roxanne) plotting Chester’s demise in “The Artificial Jungle”. Credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

What is special about this current production? Theater Breaking Through Barriers features actors with a wide range of disabilities. David Harrell (link), who plays leading man Chester, is an actor, speaker and disability advocate with one hand. And Anita Hollander (link), who plays Chester’s mother is a long time actress, singer, lyricist, producer and teacher who lost a leg due to cancer. Both actor and actress were marvelous in their respectful roles. In addition Anthony Michael Lopez (link), who portrays Zach was born with a leg defect, and other articles about the cast say that one of the five actors is also legally blind, though all my google searching could not help me identify who.

As a diversity consultant (deep expertise in LGBT, but half my clients engage me for all areas of diversity and inclusion,) I do take away two lessons from this production:

First, that differently-abled people are fully capable of handling the same tasks and taking on the same responsibilities as people without disabilities, and may perform just as well or better. This is a very important message for the business world where often unconscious bias could lead us to prejudge people with disabilities as less capable. During the play, the acting, directing and story were so good, the disabilities of the cast were non-apparent.

Second, the world of entertainment should use more “imperfect” people in roles. So often shows, movies and plays have the most beautiful flawless people on stage. Naturally in entertainment, we like to get lost in the fantasy of gorgeous people in a glamorous story, but it is also nice to experience entertainment that much more parallels real life.

I do thank Theater Breaking Through Barriers and the Clurman Theatre helping my mother and me have a great weekend in New York, and I am pleased to also make a charitable contribution to TBTB through my business. And if you are in or going to New York, do go see “The Artificial Jungle!” Link for info and tickets. And do pay close attention to the piranhas in the tank.

An excellent resource (and writer): Cerebral Palsy Guidance and Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados, Miami-based freelance writer, online reviewer, aspiring novelist and regular contributor to Cerebral Palsy Guidance

Alex Diaz-Granados, Miami-based freelance writer, online reviewer, aspiring novelist and regular contributor to Cerebral Palsy Guidance

As a career development and diversity (all areas but with an LGBT – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) deep expertise, I often get community contacts via people who discover my website and blog. One particular recent fascinating contact is Alex Diaz-Granados, a writer for the website “Cerebral Palsy Guidance.” Since “people with disabilities” is one the critical diversity constituencies in need to more full inclusion, I discussed cerebral palsy, including its intersection with the LGBT community, with Alex.

STAN: Alex, can you give me a brief description of what Cerebral Palsy Guidance is about?
ALEX: Cerebral Palsy Guidance (CPG) is a website that provides information about cerebral palsy (CP), a disability that affects approximately 764,000 children and the adults in the U.S. alone. CPG was created primarily as a resource for parents of children with CP to give them information about the disability, what treatments are available, what kinds of medical and legal assistance exist, and to dispel some of the myths that surround CP. That having been said, though, we also want to reach the general public and increase awareness about cerebral palsy, which is the most common movement disorder that affects kids.

STAN: Wow, 764,000 people affected is a huge number! Alex, Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in this work?
ALEX: Well, I’m a Miami-based freelance writer, online reviewer, and aspiring novelist – and I happen to have cerebral palsy. I was a preemie, and I acquired CP shortly after birth when a nurse placed me in an incubator – and took a bit too long to turn on the oxygen supply. It was only a momentary lapse, but thus, there was some damage in the motor control region of my brain. Luckily, I fell in love with the written word as a young boy, and I decided that I’d be a writer when I was 14.

As to how I got involved with CPG: I was asked to write a blog for the site in January of 2016. I was writing movie and book reviews for the now-closed Examiner.com at the time, plus I was gearing up to start writing my first novel. But CPG’s chief writer, Leigh Egan, emailed me not long after the New Year and asked me if I would like to be a regular blogger and share with readers what it’s like to live with CP. I’m not a researcher or a legal expert, mind you, but I do know about the challenges of daily existence as a disabled person in 21st Century America. So, I said “yes,” and here we are.

STAN: Alex, could you tell me more about the intersectionality of Cerebral Palsy with being LGB or T? Why is this important to discuss?
ALEX: I’m not LGB or T, but some of my friends are, so I am aware of the challenges they face today. I can identify with the LGBT community’s struggles to gain acceptance in a society where some people still believe that sexual orientation is an anomalous “lifestyle” or “choice” rather than an innate trait. People with CP, whether they’re gay or straight, are still sometimes looked upon as freaks or “damaged” individuals who should be shunned. Disabled people, of course, aren’t vilified or – as in the Pulse shooting in Orlando – targeted by zealots as LGB and T people are, but we still face discrimination and mockery. Look at that disabled New York Times reporter that President-elect Donald Trump made fun of during the campaign. Trump scornfully mimicked his physical disability because he didn’t like the man’s reporting or his probing questions! So for me, the intersectionality of individuals with CP and the LGBT community isn’t about sexual orientation. It’s about human rights.

Alex Diaz-Granados (second from the left) enjoys a dinner party for a close friend

Alex Diaz-Granados (second from the left) enjoys a dinner party for a close friend

STAN: What can allies do to educate themselves about the Cerebral Palsy / LGBT intersection and what actions can they take?
ALEX: I think that dialogue and participative interaction is the best way for people to understand each other. I’m not sure that disabled people in general have a negative worldview about the LGBT community – some people with CP are LGB or T, too. Maybe a small percentage of individuals with CP may have some prejudices about gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender persons, mostly because of their religious upbringing, but others, especially millennials, are more accepting. But by and large I think both groups (disabled and LGBT) get along well.

STAN: How can people learn more?
ALEX: If anyone wants more information about cerebral palsy, its causes, treatments, and what resources are available, there is Cerebral Palsy Guidance. CPG is one of the best sites on the Web, with well-written and researched articles by a dedicated staff. You can find it at https://www.cerebralpalsyguidance.com/

STAN: Thank you for the insights, Alex. Keep up your great work and I look forward to staying in touch and seeing your first novel.

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NOTE: FYI – here is a link to Alex’s LinkedIn Profile to learn more about him.