Renowned Canadian playwright Judith Thompson worked with nine actors living with Down Syndrome to create her newest work RARE.
Written with the actors’ stories and poetry from Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson, it’s a play she hopes will capture the verve and personality of her unusual cast.
The seed for this idea came from Krystal Nausbaum, an actor Thompson worked with in one of her earlier works, SICK, which featured young people with chronic conditions talking about their lives.
At a lunch with Nausbaum and her journalist mother, Madeleine Greey, Thompson asked the young woman if she would be interested in starring in another play that starred actors living with Down syndrome.
Nausbaum agreed and Thompson got Greey to co-produce the play, which was a hit when it debuted at the Toronto Fringe Festival last year.
Nausbaum, a lively young woman who is poised and confident on stage, says even she was surprised at the big differences in personality and experience among cast members.
Working with the cast at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts ahead of the opening, Thompson remarked on how "honest and direct" they were in telling their stories.
"I think I have always longed as a playwright to be invisible and speak for people in society that don’t seem to have a voice," she said, adding she began that investigation of the voiceless in her first acclaimed play, Crackwalker, about two down and out couples battered by poverty.
Thompson is also the playwright who crafted Body and Soul, a controversial production based on the stories of real women.
In RARE, cast member Nick Herd talks about his greatest fear – his parents dying and leaving him alone. Later in the play he dances The Dying Swan to express his emotion.
Thompson says she fears Down syndrome adults may be a disappearing community as fewer children are being born with Down syndrome because of genetic testing.
Thompson is working with the Young Centre over a three-year period, creating plays that represent various disabilities. Her next project will be partnered with Spinal Cord Injury Ontario and will star about six people in wheelchairs.
RARE runs to Feb. 7 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto.