There’s no holding back a determined mom, especially when she sees a void, and an opportunity.
Aimee Levesque is the mom who developed Inclusive Theater of WNY three years ago after her theatre-loving daughter couldn’t find a home in other local theatre companies.
“She wanted to act,” says Levesque about her 25 year old daughter who is living with disabilities, “and there were few opportunities for her or were limited in scope, so I was a mom trying to find support for her daughter.”
This is a labor of love for Aimee and Marilyn Erentsen-Scott, her partner in developing the company. Aimee says, “We identified a need, for people who wanted to be part of a theatre community who maybe didn’t feel included or welcomed in other companies. Here we can help people grow and work, on stage and behind the scenes.”
Aimee used her background as an educator and disability advocate (she a professor of English at SUNY Buffalo State and is a Ph.D candidate studying health literacy and the impacts the arts has on people with disabilities) and her connections to the theatre community to inform the company’s development. Her volunteer positions on the Ujima Theatre Company board of directors and the Theatre Alliance of Buffalo connected her to local actors and other theatre professionals. Aimee says, “We reached out to others in the theatre community to help us grow, and the community was very helpful.”
The company began modestly, with writing groups and acting workshops. Participation is open to anyone, disabled or not, with one condition: they have to be willing to work. The company dynamic reflects its name. Aimee says, “We welcome abled and disabled people working together. Our company is made up of people color, from different lifestyles and countries of birth. We want everyone to feel safe in their creative expression.” Company members aren’t asked to disclose their disability or identify as disabled. “The word ‘disabled’ is thrown around a lot. The word itself is disabling,” says Aimee. “We want everyone to feel wanted and accepted in this company.”
The company has impressive goals: beyond engaged abled and disabled people in the business of studying and presenting performances, the company endeavors to “challenge perceptions and begin to create a world in which people are accepted and allowed to contribute to society no matter what age, physical condition, race, nationality or gender,” as reflected in the company’s mission statement.
The company will open its first fully staged production on Thursday, Oct. 11 at Alleyway Theatre. The play, “And Where Will You Put The Things You Save?,” is a regional premiere by local playwright Baroness von Smith.
Virginia Brannon is the director, and the cast features local actors Steve Brachmann, Jessica Levesque, and John Profeta. The script reflects the company’s mission and values, too. Aimee says, “Being disabled is just a portion of who a person is. The script has a lot of elements that are educationally sound. There’s a lot in there.”
“And Where Will You Put The Things You Save?” will run October 11 to 28, at the Alleyway Theatre. For tickets, call the box office at 716-218-8129, and for more information on the production and the company, visit www.inclusivetheaterofwny.com.