Friday, October 24, 2008

Famous PEOPLE Players

Famous PEOPLE Players founder Diane Dupuy. (Image copyright Famous PEOPLE Players)

Every year, it's the same thing. I start my Christmas shopping early, usually right after the kids make their way back to school. I do this for the same reason most early-bird shoppers are pounding the pavement, or rather the floors, of every mall in a 100-mile radius, right after Labour Day. There's a veritable smorgasbord of the choicest merchandise, coupled with the heady pleasure of shopping without the nail-biting anxiety of being stampeded on the way to the checkout counter.

Over the next few months, I spend countless hours second-guessing my choices, finding fault with almost every item. Miraculously, this year, I managed to avoid all that nonsense, and was amazed that perfectly acceptable gifts fell like manna from the sky. There's only one person standing in the way of my victory dance. My mother. She has told me more than once that the last thing an 80-year-old woman needs is more stuff. So, forsaking the usual trek to the mall, I went online, instead. My mother has a passion for live theatre. Why not give her the gift of a night out on the town? I reasoned.

After pouring over dozens of websites, I finally spotted the perfect gift: The Famous PEOPLE Players Dine and Dream Theatre. I've never had the pleasure of sitting in a darkened theatre to watch a black light puppet show, and neither has my mother, I'm certain. My curiosity piqued, I began to excavate the world of FPP. (One of my first finds was a blog that included a reference to "this video about Famous PEOPLE Players, arguably Canada's most successful puppetry troupe.") My knowledge of FPP was sketchy, at best. Thanks to Special People, a Canadian TV-movie I saw over 20 years ago, I do know that a young social worker (Diane Dupuy) had a Big Dream. Armed with little more than drive and ambition, her mission was to create something that would scream to the world, "Our lives have meaning and we can do anything!"

A unique black light theatre was born, providing the perfect backdrop to "integrate the developmentally challenged into society by toughening and strengthening our people to prepare them for the outside world." Dupuy was on fire to create a non-profit organization which would employ people with physical and mental disabilities. "Those individuals share duties in dining room management, arts administration, and theatrical and visual arts performances."

More than simply providing employment for the developmentally disabled, Dupuy set out to "promote, educate, and train them for the Famous PEOPLE Players dinner theatre and instill in the hearts and minds of everyone that dreams can come true when you believe in yourself." Dupuy was a force to be reckoned with, and although faced with tremendous pressure to give up on her dream, she forged ahead.

She walked the walk, and in her motivational speeches, she encourages all of us to "Dare to Dream, Reach for Excellence, and Believe in Yourself." For Dupuy, these are not just empty words, but a call to take action against indifference, intolerance, and resistance to change.

Famous PEOPLE Players is living proof that there are no limits to our creative reach, our dreams have no boundaries, and anything is possible if you dare to think outside the box.

We all have the potential to work magic in the lives of others, but we need to work as a team. "If you want to make a stand, help others make a stand, and if you want to reach your goal, help others reach their goal. Consider yourself and treat others accordingly." Confucius.

Famous PEOPLE Players would have remained a pipe dream had it not been for Dupuy's belief that the larger community is deprived of immeasurable gifts when the intellectually disabled are excluded from it.

It's based not too far from me, in Toronto, Ontario, and tours around the world. Christmas is right around the corner, as my kids never fail to remind me. For now, I can put my feet up on the coffee table and relax. On Christmas Day, my mother will not be opening yet another dust collector destined for the crawlspace. Instead, she'll be looking forward to a trip downtown, where she and I will sit in a darkened theatre watching a premier black light theatre company light up the room.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

One Person at a Time

"Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings." Nelson Mandela

Every now and again, I pull out my clay jar. I've been working on it for most of my life, and I suspect it'll never be done. I started it when I was a child. Since then, my jar has undergone many changes. Thanks to many hours of painstaking, backbreaking work, my clay jar has morphed from a tiny lumpen mass of brown goop to a breathtaking vision of loveliness.

I've shaped, molded, and finally perfected my jar. Or at least, my vision of it is clear and unobstructed. Now, as I stand back and survey my creation, my fingers get itchy again. Scratching the surface isn't good enough. I need to get into the corners and scour deep within it. After all, this is my Dream Jar Secret Hiding Place. Kind of like the jars you keep in your kitchen that hide money or important documents. Only, this jar contains my Big Dream.

In an earlier post, I talked about my penchant for performing in front of my bedroom mirror. But, like my imaginary tiny lump of clay, the dream of being a stage performer was really the first blush of a much grander fantasy. When it comes right down to it, all of us just want to do something of substance. We want to make a difference in the world.

Well, today is Blog Action Day - a day when over 7,000 bloggers will unite to "stand up against poverty," so to speak. It's an initiative to "change the conversation." To change the tired voice within that whispers in one's ear, "Me? What can one person possibly do to change the world?"

On October 17-19, 2008, Stand Up Against Poverty - International Day for the Eradication of Poverty will be in full swing. "This year, the main focus of Stand Up is Take Action, to ensure governments worldwide hear our demands to end poverty and inequality. Last year, more than 76,000 Canadians took part in more than 500 Stand Up events across the country. They were part of a mobilization against poverty that had more than 43 million participants worldwide."

I read that "a number of surveys have found that children at the lower end of the socio-economic scale had poorer health and developmental outcomes than children in the middle, and that children at the top of the socio-economic scale had better results still." In developing countries, "98% of children with disabilities receive no education, and 26 million people with an intellectual disability live on less than $1 a day."

Sometimes our knee-jerk reaction is to pull back in horror. "It's too big...too what in the world will it matter if one person performs one action?" I can hear my own voice whimpering in the dark, the covers pulled over my head.

"Simplify, simplify," said Thoreau. "One step, one action, today, is all it takes!" What is the one step, one action, I could begin putting into motion? If I have a passion for children - specifically special needs children - but I'm overwhelmed, confused, frozen in place by too much information, maybe I could join an organization that's focused on helping to change attitudes, to educate, and positively improve, mainstream social attitudes. Group lobbying, or sending out e-mails, faxes, letters to the government. Give blood, or organize a free lunch/food distribution. Many organizations have campaigns that focus on making poverty history. The Stand Up Against Poverty website has a list of "actions/activities aimed at development/welfare; petitions and communications/popular education; and mass action/popular mobilization/dissent."

As for me, my clay jar is only half full, I realize. I still have a long way to go, and time is running out. Today, though, I can take one step. It's time to "take action to end poverty and inequality, one person, one step, one heart, at a time."

(See also Poverty in Canada: The New Reality Facing Canadians
Dawn Ontario Disabled Women's Network Ontario
Grow Up Free from Poverty

This post is a part of Blog Action Day '08 - Poverty

Friday, October 3, 2008

Dare to Live a Life of Adventure

I can remember biting my nails down to the stubs when my 15-year-old daughter went on a mountain climbing expedition in British Columbia, scaling frighteningly high peaks with other equally hardy members of Outward Bound. My nails got a little bit shorter when she later battled the Dumoine River on a whitewater canoe trip. And then again when she eschewed skiing in favour of snowboarding. On moguls. At night. I guess I should be grateful bungee jumping "from the skid of a helicopter into the gaping maw of a bubbling active volcano" isn't on her 'Top 30 Things to Do Before You Hit the Big 3-0' list.

Of course, I want my grown children to know one thing: life is meant to be an adventure, not an endurance test, or a game of mere survival. So one part of me is thrilled when they dare to seize the moment, inviting risk, change, and possible failure into their lives. This is every mother's nightmare, and yet every mother's dream for her children.

Over the years, I tried not to discourage my kids' desire to push the envelope, even when my motherly instincts were on high alert, and all I wanted to do was go back in time, back to a time when they were never out of my sight. But children who choose to colour outside the lines often show a greater than average amount of creativity, imagination, and courage. So, more often than not, I lifted my chin, threw back my shoulders, and learned to applaud their walks on the wild side. Besides, ever-so slightly dangerous sports were a perfect outlet for the adventure-seeking streak in them.

There is now an unprecedented array of activities for thrill seekers - and for people with disabilities, there are plenty of opportunities for experiencing high-challenge sports. According to AccesSport America, whether it's soccer, or skiing, water sports, such as "windsurfing, kayaking, rowing/sculling, outrigger canoeing, surfing, water-skiing, or kite sailing, or rock/wall climbing, tennis, and cycling, the aim is to create higher function and fitness for children and adults of all disabilities through high-challenge sports. Programs are designed to promote each person's highest physical and athletic potential while cultivating social and emotional well-being. They seek to create a community where differences are diminished, blurred and often erased."

As I watched a news report about a ski program for children with Down syndrome, autism, etc., and read about a man with Asperger's who swam across Lake Ontario, and the three men with autism that scaled Wales' highest mountain, it got me thinking about what it takes to climb a mountain, battle raging rapids, or windsurf across the water at full speed.

Aside from the joy and sense of accomplishment they derive from mastering a new skill, adventure seekers of all abilities experience the high of constantly pushing beyond one's supposed limitations. They are living their lives with gusto, and doing it from the heart. Sure, it's a cliche that life is not a dress rehearsal. This is the main event, etc. But people of all abilities just want to be included in this joyride called life. Life is short. So, as for me, I'm kicking up my heels, strapping on my skiis, and paddling through thrilling rapids. Yeee-ha!

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