July is Disability Pride Month and Bristol Valley Theater, the Finger Lakes’ award-winning live professional theater, is celebrating. The Naples- based theater is in preparing for their first main stage production to feature an actor with a developmental disability.
Amy and the Orphans, a family comedy-drama by Lindsey Ferrentino, is currently in pre-production and will open August 25. The play tells the story of three adult siblings on a road strip to their father’s funeral. One of the siblings, Amy, has Down Syndrome and has spent much of her life in group homes without much contact with her brother and sister, so the trip is an opportunity to rebuild long neglected family bonds. Leading the cast in the role of Amy is Rebecca Ritter of Geneva, an actress with Down Syndrome.
“Amy and the Orphans is a remarkable play” says Bristol Valley Theater Executive Artistic Director Karin Bowersock. “and it presents a remarkable opportunity to expand our BVT company to include an artist with a disability.”
Ms. Ritter, who graduated from the college experience program at Hobart/William Smith Colleges in 2021, has taken classes at BVT since she was a youngster, and performed on the BVT stage in their annual cabaret for years. Helping Rebecca meet the challenges of a leading role is Omaha based director Katy Kepler, who has been meeting with Rebecca in weekly zoom sessions since late spring to help her prepare.
“Working with Rebecca has been extraordinary.” said Kepler, “I’ve had the good fortune to work with many neurodivergent theater artists before, and develop plays and performances for neurodivergent youth, and what’s amazing is that you always learn something new. What we’re doing to make the process accessible to Rebecca is actually serving to make Amy and the Orphans more accessible to everyone, and that’s what we want, right?”
The theater also reached out to Mary Lugo, Speech-Language Clinic Director and Clinical Assistant Professor at Nazareth College’s Speech and Language Clinic in Rochester to ask if they would assist Rebecca with the vocal and speech skills the role demands who was enthusiastic about the unique opportunity.
“We were excited at this opportunity to work with a client in a real life application of the therapeutic work to lines in a play,” said Paige Pasquarella, the therapist assigned to work one-on-one with Rebecca. Ms. Pasquarella and Ms Ritter have met for 10 zoom sessions from May – July focusing on breathing and vocal exercises, articulation, and applying techniques to lines in the script.
“We’re proud to celebrate Rebecca as part of our creative community at BVT,” says Bowersock, “And to celebrate Katy, Nazareth, and so many others that are helping make this ground breaking production possible.”
The production was supported, in part, by a grant from The Golisano Foundation as well as corporate support from Mitchell-Joseph Insurance, seasonal sponsor Constellation Brands, and funds from the The Sand Family Foundation, The Rimora Foundation, The Max and Marian Farash Foundation, The Community Fund and the New York State Council on the Arts.
Amy and the Orphans plays August 25 – September 4.Week one: Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Week Two: Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. with 2 p.m. matinees on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday. For the full season calendar and schedule details, visit www.bvtnaples.org.
Tickets –priced from $19 (youth) to $40 (general admission adult) – can be purchased online at www.bvtnaples.org or by calling the Box Office at 585-374-6318. A number of complimentary tickets are being distributed to local organizations that support the Intellectual and Development Disability Community, their families, and caregivers. For further information on this program, call 585 374 9032.
To keep the artists, staff, volunteers and audience members safe, BVT continues to require masks for all attendees.
BVT’s 2022 Summer Season is sponsored by Season Producer Constellation Brands and by Canandaigua National Bank, as well as public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.