The All Abilities Actors Legion stages fight against ableism

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It all ended with a chase montage spanning five decades.

The first production from the Drama Center’s All Abilities Actors Legion, Chasing the Sword, debuted Friday, blending together Greensboro history with Arthurian legend. Audiences filled the Hyers Theatre on the Greensboro Cultural Center’s first floor, as Director Sally Kinka along with cast and crew, celebrated both the 50th anniversary of the Drama Center and inclusivity in the theater community.

The show introduced the All Abilities Actors Legion which intends to build a troupe that includes and accepts people with disabilities. Formed by Kinka, the group portrays their own original tale as a fully-fledged troupe despite beginning work on their first production only five months ago.

“This is not a troupe for people to play people with disabilities,” Kinka said. “It’s for people with disabilities to play what they want.”

Though the script was transcribed by Kinka, the story itself formed from a combination of improv games and brainstorming sessions led by the cast. The collective process resulted in a campy yet clever one-act, following a series of parole hearings for a janitor accused of stealing King Arthur’s legendary sword from the Greensboro History Museum. The lineup of witnesses and investigators included detectives, bar regulars and an archivist, all struggling to piece together the truth. When a piece of evidence turns out to possess time-traveling powers, the fantasy themes skyrocket.

“We tried to play to everyone’s strengths and interests,” Kinka said.

The mystery maintained comedic elements. Purposefully mistaken names turned into a running gag, and certain moments and movements were overdramatized for effect. Whimsical costumes included a clown and a hippie, and the cast sent off the show with a time-travelling, fourth-wall-bursting chase scene.

The show itself held humor at its heart, but the All Abilities Actors Legion sends out a larger message about the theater community itself. The company aims to dispel myths against people with any type of disability, especially within theater. Often, disability lacks true representation, being portrayed on stage by someone without the disability. For many of the cast members, the cause is personal, whether through experiences of their own or of friends.

“We see it on stage and we assume that it’s someone pretending,” cast member Terry Powers commented.

Because of this, many company members have found that people carry biases about disability that follow them into the theater.

“People may come in with preconceived ideas,” Powers said.

Actress Valerie Murray refuses to let the misconceptions about autism stop her. Her theater experience began as a stagehand and continued on as a performer in an indie horror film, set to release in 2019.

“I actually found out if I really, really want to do something,” Murray said. “I’ll do it anyways.”

Cast members shared anecdotes about walking into the first few rehearsals as individuals, but the group quickly transformed into a serious troupe. The closeness translated onto the stage, as they rifted off of each other’s characterizations seamlessly.

The impact began before the lights even went up. The Drama Center promises a second show for the troupe this season, with open auditions on Feb. 5. The All Abilities Actors Legion invited audiences to sit down, silence their cell phones and break down prejudice.

Actor Davis Nidiffer, playing a role as a detective’s assistant, hopes to see more inclusivity in theater.

“Short and sweet,” Nidiffer said. “Let everyone have a chance.”

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