THEATER REVIEW | Bloomington Civic Theatre’s “Next to Normal”: Mental illness portrayed without sugarcoating

Next to Normal, now playing at Bloomington Civic Theatre, is an unusual and powerful piece of musical theater. Its gripping narrative of mental illness and the people caught in its tow helped garner the show eleven Tony nominations in 2009, and both its score and orchestration walked away from that ceremony with prizes. Done well, it is a stirring drama cut with quips of dark comedy, accompanied by sumptuous yet economical orchestration and moving songs. It’s also the sort of show that you should really just go see without reading about the plot, lest you spoil several major surprises.BCT’s production of Next to Normal embraces the pain and exhaustion of the material. This overmedicated flatness may be a legitimate treatment (and certainly a painfully familiar condition to those who have first-hand experience of mental illness in the family) of the source material, but it does mean that many of the jokes sprinkled throughout the script were flattened enough that they passed without notice. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | “Busytown: The Musical” at Children’s Theatre Company: Appreciation overflows at the sensory-friendly performance

How do you express appreciation for a performance that you see? The Greeks of classical antiquity clapped at theatrical performances, certainly, but also shouted, stamped their feet, hissed, and hooted–both to show approval and disapproval. The ancient Romans were more likely to snap their fingers or wave part of their togas when at the arena; for a play, they normally withheld their acclamation until the phrase “Valete et plaudite” was intoned, indicating that the performance was over. In other contexts, silent appreciation was more of the norm–as accurately depicted in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006), where the Austrian princess-cum-French queen discovers that applauding was a distinctly foreign concept at the royal opera house. In Deaf Culture, a common practice is to show appreciation by raising hands, stretching out the fingers, and quickly twisting the wrists. Continue Reading

Autism and the theater frontier: Sensory-friendly performances coming to Minnesota theaters

This is Part One of a series on autism-spectrum disorders and the theatre.The meteoric increase in autism-spectrum disorder diagnoses in the United States presents one of the major social issues of our time. Although experts continue to debate the exact causes of this phenomenon, its impacts are profound and far-reaching, affecting public education, employment, and social interactions–not to mention the countless lives of friends, families, and individuals directly involved. Although exact figures vary, one of the most recent studies, using data from 11 research sites across the US, found an overall prevalence of autism of 1 in 68 amongst 8-year-olds. These diagnoses cut across all socio-economic classes, racial and ethnic divisions, and locations.The term “autism” as it is broadly used encompasses a wide spectrum of symptoms, including the previously separate Asperger’s syndrome diagnosis. Some of the more common symptoms involve difficulties with social interaction, communication, and behavior–all of which are key areas for cognitive development. Continue Reading

The difference a prosthetic can make

I am well aware that if I had been born in a different time or place my life would not be what it is. I might point to my eyeglasses and reference my very poor unassisted vision as one way my life would have been quite different if I’d been born a few hundred years ago. But I think that my prosthetic arm is the more obvious tie to the modern era that I rely on regularly. Continue Reading

Spotlight on access – physical and virtual – at the 2014 Great Minnesota Get-Together!

The healthy being craves an occasional wildness, a jolt form normality, a sharpening of the edge of appetite, his own little festival of Saturnalia, a brief excursion from his way of life. – Robert MacIver, sociologist

It’s State Fair time — when new taste treats compete with cheese curds for olfactory prominence, military issue 4-H dorms house weary teens demo-ing the latest in control of frac-sand or groundwater pollution, research-in-progress shares space with Goldie Gopher at the aU of M show-and-tell. Still, as J.V. Bailey (for whom the building that now houses the Minnesota State Fair Foundation is named) observed the “the State Fair approaches in scope and effort an institution of learning.” Continue Reading

The state as a model employer

Our public workforce should reflect our state’s diversity, but Minnesota is not living up to this standard. Research shows that 10 percent of Minnesota’s civilian noninstitutionalized population has a disability, but only a little more than three percent of state public employees are disabled. The state’s disabled workforce has been shrinking for 15 years—now is the time to reverse the trend. Continue Reading

The one where I pick on the disabled

I was at a meeting a while back about a new parking policy in downtown Saint Paul. The city was changing its policies about handicapped parking. Until very recently, anyone with a handicapped parking placard on their dashboard was allowed to park for free all day downtown. Continue Reading

State Services for the Blind reaches out to people of color

Over many years, studies have shown African Americans to be more prone to diabetes than Caucasians and to have a higher incidence of diabetes-related vision loss or impairment. The Minnesota State Services for the Blind, a relatively little-known State agency, can help people of color with vision loss or visual impairment, whether diabetes-related or from other causes.

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