I woke up today singing “Good Morning Baltimore,” which is no wonder considering I sat through three stage performances of Hairspray over the weekend.

If there’d been a fourth, I would have been there for that, too.

The musical was performed by Detour Company Theatre, a local theater troupe. As the board member who introduced the show said, the cast members in this weekends’ performances are otherwise invisible to most of us. They are adults with developmental disabilities — with a range of diagnoses both familiar (yes, there were several cast members with Down syndrome, including the young woman who played Tracy Turnblad) and (I’m guessing) not. I nodded as he spoke, thinking how true it is that I encounter people like this so seldom in every day life.

And certainly not 50 of them on stage together in one of the biggest and fanciest theaters in town.

The performance was top-notch; Detour’s productions always are. The actors rehearsed intensely for months, joined onstage by more than two dozen coaches who in many cases literally walked, talked and sang the stars through their paces, and sometimes were just there for moral support.

Probably because I’m a glass-half-empty kind of girl — and certainly because I’m the mother of a future Detour actor (if they’ll have her) — instead of cheering with the crowd, I cried through most of the three performances, particularly at curtain call (curtain calls always get me anyhow), thinking not of what a great opportunity this was but instead of how few opportunities these actors have, both on and off stage, to shine. And who’s here in the audience, anyhow? I asked myself, poking at the wound. Just family members.

The night before the run began, I’d bumped into a super-hip young woman who works in the arts in Scottsdale. “Are you going to see Hairspray this weekend?” I asked her. Her face changed; she couldn’t get away from me fast enough. No, was the unspoken answer. Of course not.

To be fair, that would have been my answer before I had Sophie — and, to be brutally honest — it was my answer for a long time after I had her. My mother has known Sam, Detour’s director, for decades. She’s been going to the productions forever. Several years ago, she finally convinced me to come see a show; Sophie’s beloved nanny, Courtney, was volunteering as a coach.

I could barely look at the stage. When Sophie and Annabelle were invited a couple years ago to play the children in South Pacific, I warmed up a little. But I still had trouble watching. A couple shows later, and I was pushing other people aside for second-row seats at Hairspray. I couldn’t get close enough and like I said already, couldn’t see the show often enough.

Annabelle and Sophie feel the same. They both dressed up in circle skirts and ponytails and danced in the aisles this weekend — crowd warmers.

Annabelle wrote an essay for school last semester about Detour.

Okay, so maybe that super-hip artsy woman wasn’t there (I didn’t see her, but there were hundreds of people at each show, so I suppose it’s possible) but my mother, my kids and I have all been changed by Detour. Three generations. Not bad. I won’t say “just family members” again.

And I was reminded by a cast member after yesterday’s final show that rehearsals for the next one start soon. So maybe Detour is enough.

Of course it’s not. Not even close. And the subject matter of Hairspray was lost on no one. Sam, the director, kept just about everything from the original script (as far as I could recall) but changed the term “Negro Day” to “Special Day.”

I don’t think that was lost on anyone, either.

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Tags: Filed under: Down syndrome, Entertainment by Amysilverman

6 Responses to “Special Day: Adults with Developmental Disabilities Take the Stage in Hairspray at Scottsdale Center for the Arts”

  1. It sounds like a really inspiring performance. I wish I could’ve seen it, however am glad to have read about it. People with challenges should have more opportunities like that!!!

  2. How inspiring! We have a group in my town of 40,000 that does plays every summer…and I admit, I haven’t attended. I will make the next one!!

  3. Last year, when Sophie and Annabelle were in the South Pacific production I had the extreme honor and privilege of attending my first Detour Production. I have worked with special needs children throughout my career in an inner city school district on the west side of town. I started that career in the early 70′s. I had never heard of Detour and felt so remiss that I didn’t expose my students to this outstanding theater company.
    I too, Amy, cried through the whole production and felt uplifted beyond words by the hard work and mastery of the actors. I loved it and have been a supporter ever since. I can’t thank you enough for bringing this to the attention of myself and more as I have a pretty big mouth and have spread the word. I look forward to every production even though I had to miss this one.

  4. Oh my, I wish I had been there. Hairspray is Natty and Mia’s fave film bar none, I bet it was amazing. I really want desperately to find a good local theatre group for her. And yes, I’ve often thought of the oarallels of ‘negro day’ and various Special Needs events too x

  5. So glad I found this post! My son, Joshua, is 26 and has Down syndrome. He would LOVE to see and be in Hairspray! I’ll keep an eye out for future productions! Who knows, maybe we’ll make one. :D

  6. I choreograph the musicals at our local junior high. We always have kids with special needs in the cast. This year we have 2 Munchkins with Down syndrome. I though of Sophie, and I hope she can be in the musicals wherever she goes to junior high.

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