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Not Every Village Has an Idiot

posted Tuesday December 10th, 2013


This past weekend, Sophie  performed onstage at the Herberger Theater in downtown Phoenix for the third year in a row. The production is Snow Queen and as far as I know, Sophie’s the only kid with special needs (definitely the only one with Down syndrome) who’s ever been in this show, sort of a Nutcracker alternative presented by Center Dance Ensemble, a modern dance company run by my mother’s longtime friend and business partner.

Hence, the in. Annabelle first performed in Snow Queen when she was 6; we waited much longer for Sophie to audition. The last two years, Sophie was a sprite, the role reserved for the youngest kids. She’s so small I figured she’d stay with that, but this year the (very kind) producers said she was ready to be a “village lass.”

Turns out, they were right.

“Sophie’s internet connection’s just a little slow,” Ray stage-whispered (not unkindly) as we watched her heel-and-toe across the floor Sunday afternoon. It’s true. She had trouble keeping up, but she did it — and made up for what she lacked in speed with a sassy hand-on-hip attitude that got progressively stronger with each of the four performances, til I was half-joking that if there’d been a fifth performance she might have ripped off her shirt, a la Fat Amy in Pitch Perfect.

Even better than what happened onstage was what happened backstage: Nothing. Yes, she probably asked a few more questions than the other kids, might have wandered out of the dressing room a couple times to chat with older cast members, but for the most part, Sophie was one of the crowd.

It was awesome. She played games with the other girls, shared snacks, lined up for curtain call — just like they did. Only one asked me why Sophie was 10 and a half and smaller than the others. (A legitimate question.)

Saturday evening, I volunteered backstage and got to see it all firsthand. At one point I was chatting with one of the stage managers, who made some comment about “The Village” (the scene Sophie’s in) and suddenly, out of nowhere (but always lurking, I suppose) the term “village idiot” popped into my head.

Oh great, Sophie’s the village idiot! I thought to myself. I sat down and Googled the phrase. It’s unclear whether the expression refers to people with Down syndrome, which wasn’t formally identified until the middle of the Nineteenth Century, long after the heyday of the old school town clown.

I sat still in my chair as the chaos of the theater swirled, blinking hard, thinking. I got up and found Sophie, sitting with several other cast members — again, one of the crowd.

Stop it, I thought. And I did. No village idiots here, people. Move along. Nothing to see. Just another cute village lass with bright red lips.

This morning I woke up and realized that Special Olympics cheerleading begins tonight. It’s about as different an experience as you can imagine. Sophie’s just as excited for it.

To be honest, so am I — after a lot of hesitation last year. Both can be tough. Sophie doesn’t fit easily into either world, and as her mom, neither do I.

But Sophie loves to perform. And I love to watch. All the world’s (and all the worlds) her stage. So far, anyway.

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Tags: Filed under: culture, Down syndrome by Amysilverman

2 Responses to “Not Every Village Has an Idiot”

  1. Oh how I relate to this.
    Those scary thoughts, and more importantly, loving “normal” when it appears in the most surprising of places. It’s great and in my opinion, super important that you’re supporting your daughter in integrated and special events. I think it gives her the opportunity to find and discover true friends and develop relationships with all *kinds* of people. We all should be so lucky :)

  2. Awwww…she was amazing! As always. Now we get to go in to cheer. We’re all learning and growing and being inspired right along side her, aren’t we?

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