Nassau Bay director sets an inclusive stage
For the actors of Dionysus Theatre, the message of its upcoming musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, mirrors that of the theater itself acceptance.
The production, which opens Saturday, June 12, and continues through June 30, follows a diverse group of junior high misfits in the throes of puberty as they experience the mania of competition under the supervision of adults who have barely escaped the trauma of childhood themselves.
The musical underscores the importance of accepting each other for who we are, said Deborah Nowinski, founder and artistic director of the nonprofit organization, which provides an opportunity for actors, regardless of disability or disadvantage, to share the theater experience.
Of the nine cast members involved in the production, four have either a physical disability or a hidden disability," such as autism.
The mission of the group which presents its productions in the Joe Frank Theater, a black-box style theater located within the Jewish Community Center is to take the challenged out of the shadows and fringes and put them on stage and in the spotlight, where they shine, the Nassau Bay resident said.
Marquia Banks, who is blind, said when she learned about Dionysus in 1999, she felt compelled to audition. When she did, she was impressed.
It wasn't just a lot of people in wheelchairs," said Banks, a student at Houston Community College and the mother of a 4-year-old son.
I asked Deb, how do you get into this troupe?" She said, You're in.'"
Dionysus, Banks said, shatters stereotypes.
Here, I'm not a blind actor," Banks said. I'm an actor who happens to be blind."
Dedicated to the memory of her son Dustin, who died of bone marrow cancer at age 15 in 1997, Nowinski said the troupe is her attempt to follow her son's advice that she teach to the soul" of those who don't understand the challenges faced by people with an illness or disability.
The theater, which began with six actors and performed one show the first year, now performs four main stage shows annually.
It also offers three sessions of 10-week theatre classes for teens and young adults with disabilities and a touring troupe that performs in schools.
Clear Lake resident Andrea Hoekstra portrays Lisa Peretti, the spelling bee moderator and former spelling bee champion who clings to her past glories.
The message of the play is the same as Dionysus Theatres' message: Accept each other and ourselves'," Hoekstra said.
Musical director Stephen W. Jones has been with Dionysus for four years.
He said working with a cast that includes both able-bodied and disabled actors has been rewarding and educational for him and for the audience that sits in the darkened theater and watches the magic unfold.
When the audience leaves, they are not thinking, That was a good show with disabled people'," Jones said. They are saying, That was a good show.' "
IF YOU GO
What: The 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Where: Joe Frank Theatre, 5601 S. Braeswood, Houston
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 16-17, 19, 23, 24, 26 and 30; and 1 p.m. June 13, 20 and 27
Tickets: $20 adults; $15 students and seniors
Details: Call 713-728-0041 or visit www.dionysustheatre.org
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