The art of inclusion

When she was 16, Carrie Rudolph's best friend Coco disappeared. "Coco decided I was old enough, I didn't need her anymore," said Rudolph, sitting in her wheelchair at the Old Fire Hall on Monday.

When she was 16, Carrie Rudolph’s best friend Coco disappeared.

“Coco decided I was old enough, I didn’t need her anymore,” said Rudolph, sitting in her wheelchair at the Old Fire Hall on Monday.

“She was my imaginary friend.”

Rudolph created Coco when she was six.

“She did everything I liked to do,” she said.

Now, 10 years later, Coco and Rudolph have been reunited on the stage in Tell Me More, a montage of song, dance, theatre and stories created by Yukon Association for Community Living’s Ynklude ensemble and directed by Brian Fidler.

Rudolph’s slice of the show is about her struggle to attend school, and the support Coco gave the little girl.

Her family had just moved to Faro from Nova Scotia, and she was barred from the school.

“The principal would not allow me in the school because I was in a wheelchair,” said the 26-year-old.

After her dad got on school council, those rules changed.

“It got better after I got to be in class with everybody,” she said.

Rudolph, who has spina bifida, was rehearsing a dance in her wheelchair with local choreographer and dancer Jude Wong.

“The idea is to include people with intellectual disabilities in all parts of the community including the arts,” said show producer Patti Flather, of Gwaandak Theatre Society.

Fidler was “really scared” when Flather first approach him about directing it.

“I was nervous—I didn’t know how to make a plan for someone who’s blind, someone in a wheelchair and people with intellectual disabilities,” he said.

“How do I tackle the rehearsal process, or design an exercise that would get everyone doing something?”

The one thing that unified the group was sound, said Fidler.

“I sing because I love it,” said Cheri Wilson, sitting in a chair in the rehearsal space.

Wilson is blind.

“You get up on stage; you have to stand in front of the music stand; put your cane on your music stand, and sing loud so everybody can hear your beautiful voice,” she said.

Every time Wilson sings, people cry.

“She has an old-timey Ethel Merman voice,” said Fidler.

Wilson is singing a song written by musical director Andrea McColeman.

But Wilson’s changed the words.

Roomates and counselors

I didn’t have friends

But no, I never felt lonely

School was hard sometimes

But no, I never felt lonely

They don’t keep you

After your turn 18

Wonder what they’re all doing now

Maybe some day I would like to talk to them

One more time

“There’s a lot of crying at rehearsal,” said Fidler.

But there’s also lots of laughter.

Flather was, actually, worried the production would have too much laughter.

“It’s easy to go to the light side and joy,” said Fidler.

“And I was lobbying for some dark with all the joy,” said Flather.

But before steering the group in this direction, they consulted with the performers.

“We wanted to make sure everybody was happy with what we were making,” said Fidler.

“And we wanted to give everyone a chance to speak,” added Flather.

“Because when you’re dealing with people with intellectual disabilities, they often don’t have a huge voice—so it’s easy to trample over that.”

The production is “hard-hitting in some places,” said Fidler.

“Theatre is a powerful art form for humans to reflect on who they are,” added Flather.

The Ynklude crew created the piece together with the help of local talent, including Dave Haddock, Charlie Wilson, Wong and McColeman.

“There’s a lot of cross pollination, so I hope people from all different parts of the community come out,” said Flather.

Although the actors are part of the Whitehorse community, they are less visible, said Fidler.

“I don’t see them around as much as other people who perform in town,” he said.

“It’s hard for them to get out,” said Flather.

It’s been challenging to work with disabilities she wouldn’t normally encounter in a dance studio, said Wong.

“I love working with wheelchairs,” she said.

“It makes you explore what is universal in movement—what everyone can do and relate to.”

“You can’t assume people can or can’t do something,” added Flather.

“Not everybody walks or has the same kind of mobility.

“But that goes for everybody—some people have bad knees or backs.”

Working with Ynklude has been wonderful, said Fidler.

“I was afraid, but it’s opened my eyes—I don’t know what I was afraid of.”

“I’m afraid of getting up in front of people,” said performer Karen Ross.

“I’m dancing,” she said, twirling around in the room.

Tell Me More is running both Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. at the Old Fire Hall in Whitehorse.

There is also a Sunday matinee at 3 p.m.

Tickets are $12 and are available at Arts Underground and the Yukon Arts Centre box office.

Everyone’s welcome.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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