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Some Enchanted Evening

posted Saturday June 16th, 2012

Last night I walked into Scottsdale Center for the Arts and smack into two of the coolest women I know. No surprise, it was a Friday night and the place was bustling. This is one of the best places in my town to see a show. Over the years I’ve gone there for Ira Glass, David Sedaris, Lyle Lovett, Spalding Gray — you get the picture.

But to be honest, on this night, I wasn’t expecting to see these two.

“So,” I said, after hellos and hugs. “Are you guys here for, um –”

They both looked slightly embarrassed. No, they explained, they were running an event in the small theater at Scottsdale Center, a discussion about how to save a Frank Lloyd Wright house in the Arcadia neighborhood that’s at risk of being demolished.

They didn’t ask why I was there. They knew.

We all had to get where we were going, so we said our goodbyes and Ray and I made our way into the larger theater. We weren’t there to hear a lecture about modern art or see some tragically hip public radio star. Actually, some people might call the event we’d come for tragic.

My cool friends might. They’d never say it, though I wouldn’t blame them for thinking it. Not so long ago — nine years and three weeks, to be exact — I would have felt exactly the same way.

I was at Scottsdale Center for the Arts last night to see the latest production by a local troop called Detour. Even the closest watchers of the Phoenix theater scene might not recognize the name. All of the actors in this production are developmentally disabled adults. Some very much so. Many can’t be on stage alone — so coaches work closely with them, quietly feeding them lines, masterfully guiding them (literally) through the scenes of a full-scale, full-blown musical production — in this case, South Pacific.

Ray and I were there last night specifically to watch our children perform. Sophie had a role as one of Emile’s children; Annabelle, too, and she served as Sophie’s onstage coach.

I won’t pretend that I didn’t wish in some ways last night that I had come to hear a lecture about architecture. Afterward, we could have gone out for cocktails and talked about the relative merits of Wright’s notoriously low ceilings. But that’s not my life (so much) anymore. Some days I’m better at accepting that than others. I think I did okay last night.

True, we sat near the last row. A safe distance. After the show, when the actors were milling around in the lobby and I could see them more closely, I was startled to realize how significantly many are affected by their disabilities. For a minute or two, during the performance, I got so caught up I forgot I wasn’t watching a professional theater company perform.

The director, a woman named Sam, does an incredible job of casting and giving each actor the chance to work to his or her potential. In the case of the leads, that meant the audience got to listen to some truly amazing vocal performances. (Really! The woman who plays the lead is freaking unbelievable.) For others, it meant being on stage, going through several costume changes, speaking a line or two, and relishing well-earned applause.

Sam is an old friend of my mom’s, and we talked for a few minutes a couple months ago at Special Olympics. Her own son, Christopher, competes in Special Olympics and she told me that she only comes because he so obviously enjoys it (he won a gold medal for running during the span of our conversation) but that she long ago decided that there needs to be more for adults with disabilities. A lot more. So she created Detour.

I went to my first Detour performance a year and a half ago, when our beloved nanny Courtney was a coach. To be honest, it was hard to watch. You don’t see a lot of parents of young kids like Sophie at events like this — and I totally understand why. Even at a happy time like this, it’s hard to propel yourself headlong into your future. Into your kid’s future.

So when Sam asked if the girls would take part in South Pacific, I hesitated. But they were both so excited about it, we said yes. Courtney graciously took them to several rehearsals, and she’s in charge of the kids while they are back stage.

I have to admit that I worried about how Annabelle would react to spending so much time with Detour. Not my proudest moment: One day I asked her, “How is it, hanging around with, um, people in that situation? Does it make you feel uncomfortable?”

She looked at me like I was crazy. (She does that more and more these days.) I shut my mouth. Last night, watching her take hands with Sophie and another girl to dance in a circle around a woman in a wheelchair, my eyes welled up. I know being Sophie’s sister is hard sometimes, but last night, I only felt how lucky Annabelle is. And what a wonderful young woman she’s becoming. And I know I’m biased, but I have to say that Sophie stole the show.

I had never seen South Pacific (not sure how I got to 45 without it — I did know all the songs) and neither had Ray, so we were a little lost when it came to the story. When Emile made a comment about his children being “different” I thought, “Wow, a reference to special needs?!” but a friend explained later it’s because the kids are supposed to be a different ethnic background. By the end, I got it, and I understood why Sam chose this play — it’s about overcoming prejudice and finding love.


Detour has two more performances this weekend — at 3 today and 3 tomorrow at Scottsdale Center for the Arts. Both are free (donations optional) and open to the public. I’d love it if you come. But trust me, I’ll totally understand if you don’t.

If you do, look for me. I’ll be sitting in the front row.

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Tags: Filed under: culture, Down syndrome, Entertainment by Amysilverman

6 Responses to “Some Enchanted Evening”

  1. Amy, to see Sophie is to love Sophie. I also have a daughter that shared the stage this weekend with Sophi and Annabelle. Sophie brought down the house last night and again this afternoon, and I can’t wait to see her again tomorrow!

    Detour is my daughter Jessie’s life and we’ve watched her grow and gain more confidence with every show she’s in. Sam always refers to DCT as a family. I welcome you and your family to our family.

  2. Detour truly changes your outlook on life! It is so easy to fall in love with everyone in the company. I learned about Detour last year when I was brought in to help ASL interpret rehearsals. I had never really been around people with developmental disabilities before. Yet, they are all so nice! They have made me into a better person. I am excited to continue to help them in the years to come!

  3. I am so grateful to you for telling me about this — I have thought about the show repeatedly since Friday night. Everyone should have an opportunity to do things they love to do, and Detour provides an opportunity that some adults might not otherwise have. Not just to perform in front of an audience, but to watch as well. I loved it. And Sophie and Annabelle are superstars!!!

  4. I wish I lived in Phoenix!

  5. Oh Amy this gave me chills!
    I especially loved your description of your conversation with Annabelle. These kids…how did they get so wise?

  6. Loved this, made me cry, my girls 10 and almost 12 are finding their way in the world too..and getting closer to approaching the world as young adults …

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