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Disability Theatre Project Allows Davidson Students to Instigate Social Change

March 22, 2001
Contact: Bill Giduz 704/894-2244 or bigiduz@davidson.edu

by Alexandra Obregon '00
Joan Lipkin
Visiting artist Joan Lipkin

Sixteen Davidson students will initiate a community-wide dialogue about disability on Friday, March 30, in a grassroots theatre performance entitled "The DisAbility Project: Exploring Disability Issues Through Theatre" under the direction of visiting artist Joan Lipkin and Davidson faculty members Ann Fox and Sharon Green.

Lipkin arrives on campus Friday, March 23, for a week long residency. She will work with students in Fox's course on "Disability and Literature" and Green's course on "Community-Based Theatre for Social Change," throughout the week to create a performance centered on the subject of disability. The students will present their performance on Friday, March 30. Immediately following the production, Lipkin will share with the audience her experiences as a playwright and director of grassroots theatre "with a political edge." The evening's events are free and open to the public, beginning at 5 p.m. in the 900 Room of the College Union.

Fox, an assistant professor of English, explained that disability studies is an emerging program at colleges throughout the country. She personally became involved in the field through her work with "The DisAbility Project," a grassroots community-based theater company founded by Lipkin.

"Disability studies is the study of a culture, not just a medical condition," Fox said. "It seeks to understand 'normalcy' and 'ability' as socially constructed categories, and to understand the encrypted role of the 'disabled' in society."

In her "Disability and Literature" class, students have explored the use of disability as a metaphor in the British and American literary traditions, the rise of disability culture, and representations of disability in contemporary popular culture. She said that incorporating performance into the course, and involving Green's theatre students in the performance, provides students with a holistic understanding of disability in literature.
disability project rehearsal
Students Sherry Leverett and Peter Lipsett rehearse a skit entitled "Attitudes," wherein a not so imaginary wall builds between two people when one realizes the other has no right arm.

Green, a visiting assistant professor of theatre, said she welcomed the opportunity to get involved because, "It gives students a chance to create from scratch a piece of theatre that directly engages a topic of interest to them."

Green's course is a study of theatre and performance as catalysts for social change. Focusing specifically on community-based theatre, her students have learned about the history of the stage as an effective site for cultural and political interventions that disrupt dominant and oppressive power structures.

She said that working with a noted theatre activist like Lipkin gives her students the chance to convert classroom work into actual "hands-on" experience.

Both classes are new to Davidson's curriculum.

A native of Chicago, Lipkin is the artistic director of "That Uppity Theatre Company" in St. Louis, where she founded the nationally acclaimed Alternate Currents/Direct Currents Series and The DisAbility Project. She also co-founded Women CenterStage! with the Center of Contemporary Arts, the Nadadada Festival at The Forum for Contemporary Art, and the Mid-Sized Arts Cooperative.

She was an artist-in-residence at Washington University for five years, and was recently awarded the Missouri Arts Award, the John Van Voris Community Service Award and the Special Recognition Award from Arts for Life. Her company has also received numerous honors, including an Award for Community Enhancement from the Governor's Council on Disability, and FOCUS St. Louis's "What's Right With the Region" award for improving racial equality and social justice. Her work will be featured in the April 2001 issue of American Theater magazine.

Her plays have been published and presented in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia and Asia, and include Small Domestic Acts, One Sunday Morning, Love & Work & Other Four Letter Words, Some of My Best Friends Are, and He's Having Her Baby (with Tom Clear).

For more information on Lipkin's residency at Davidson or the student performance on March 30, call 894-2012.

disability project rehearsal
(l-r) Thomas Mills, Lauren Dennis, and Jimmy Constantine rehearse "FDR," a series of sketches about students looking at sculptures of the country's only president to use a wheel chair.

Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson recently launched "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.

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