The DisAbility Project empowers individuals, honors their stories, sparks imaginations, fosters community, encourages civic dialogue, and enhances public awareness about disability through innovative theatre of the highest quality.
The Story of The DisAbility Project
Since 1996, That Uppity Theatre Company has focused on developing projects that bring together amateur performers with professional artists to create innovative material based on lived experience. Co-founded by Joan Lipkin and Fran Cohen, The DisAbility Project represents one of the most comprehensive creative endeavors in the Midwest to address issues of disability and creativity. Few organizations in the country have presented such a broad-based collaboration between disabled and able-bodied actors, artists, designers, activists, and other members of the community.
They rehearse most Saturday mornings in space donated by the Washington University School of Medicine’s Program in Occupational Therapy in the Central West End of the city of St. Louis. Most rehearsals are open to the public. Their season runs September through June, with performances throughout Missouri and Illinois.
People with disabilities are typically absent from representation and participation in their cultural landscape. According to the 2000 Missouri Census, an estimated 17% of the population in the state experiences some form of disability, whether it is sensory, cognitive, or mobility related. With over 55 million people with disabilities in the United States, it is the largest and most financially challenged population in the country.
The DisAbility Project brings awareness and sensitivity to issues in the disability community through a combination of art and advocacy that tours to a variety of audiences. The project has performed for approximately 35,000 people to date, presenting at educational institutions, conferences, special events, festivals, religious and civic groups, and corporations.
Their group is comprised of people with and without disabilities who are diverse in age, race, ethnicity, class, occupation, education, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability, and performance experience.
Some of the challenges facing participants include spinal cord injury, Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, AIDS, alcoholism, asthma, cancer, Polio, stroke, epilepsy, blindness, brain injury, bipolar disorder, amputation, depression, and cognitive delay.
Ensemble members engage in conversation, writing, sound, movement and theatrical exercises to create educational and entertaining performance pieces on the culture of disability. Many people with disabilities are finding both a sense of community and an outlet for their talents in the project, while their artists without disabilities have had their worldview expanded.