How well do you understand disabilities, seen or unseen? Bwog sent staffer Jessa Nootbaar to V-Day’s performance of student narratives about disability, and her response is loud and clear: whether you are familiar or unfamiliar with disabilities (especially the later, perhaps), you should attend V-Day’s Respectability tonight or tomorrow.
The moment the 17-person cast stood together and looked out onto the audience, seeming to make eye contact with every person in the filled theater, I got chills. And for the next two hours, I would continue to be absolutely captivated as these 17 remarkably talented individuals presented the narratives of Columbia students with disabilities.
The costuming and scenery were minimal, and I found the show to be more like a collection of spoken word performances than a play. Emcees Krish Bhatt and Christine Aucoin (both BC ’18), guided the audience from one story to the next, providing background information and trigger/content warnings along the way. While this stylistic choice made the show slightly choppy, Bhatt and Aucoin filled a necessary role, and at times provided some much needed comic relief.
The collection of pieces–some authored by their performers, others by students not otherwise involved in the production, and others anonymously–covered a vast range of physical and mental disabilities. Many narratives also covered the topics of intersectionality and privilege. In a piece titled “Dyslexia,” Kate Oldshue, BC ’18, masterfully portrayed the disparity in teachers’ perceptions of learning disabilities in white students versus students of color. Narratives also touched on ableist language, social and sexual stigmas, police brutality, emotional and physical abuse, and Columbia’s shortcomings in disability services, among other issues. But the show was not without a strong sense of humor: the audience especially enjoyed Valerie Jaharis, BC ’19, as a condescending psychiatrist and floundering therapist.
Other notable performances included those of Joya Ahmad, GS 17, who appeared in three distinct pieces and assumed each respective role with skill and passion, and Rowan Hepps Keeney, BC ’18, who wowed in their self-written narrative, “Caption:” a piece with sparse spoken lines and projected captions that conveyed inner dialogue. The narrative’s raw emotion, as well as its beautiful execution by Ahmad and Hepps Keeney, brought many (including myself) to tears.
The performance ended with messages of strength, adequacy, and inclusion. I immediately reached out to friends, suggesting they attend tomorrow’s or Saturday’s performance. Respect(ability) had been a transcendentally powerful experience.
Upcoming shows of Respect(ability) will take place on March 4 (7 pm) and March 5 (7:30 pm) in The Glicker-Milstein Theatre. Tickets are sold out, but waitlist places are available to those who arrive before the show.
Run time: 2 hours (with 15 minute intermission)
Image courtesy of Jessa Nootbaar