VSA arts serves to communicate the power of the arts as a means to positively shape the lives of people with disabilities. The VSA arts Playwright Discovery Program is open to students in 6th- 12th grade and challenges students of all abilities to take a closer look at the world around them, examine how disability affects their lives and the lives of others, and express their views through the art of playwriting. During Uppity’s fourth year of bringing this program to students in St. Louis, DisAbility Project Artistic Associate Deborah Mashibini and guest Teaching Artist Jessica Laney are in residence at University City High School. The entire student body will be treated to a special performance by the DisAbility Project underwritten by Washington University. Special thanks to Cheryl Adelstein, Director of Community Relations and Local Governmental Affairs for arranging support for the performance. (more...)
Jessica Laney (Artistic Associate)
Jessica Laney is the Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of SLIGHTLY askew Art Collective based out of New York City and holds a BFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in theatre. Productions include Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World by Suzan-Lori Parks (NYU) Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare (SLIGHTLY askew) Henry VIII by William Shakespeare (Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts, London). She was also featured in the music video "Esmerelda" by hip-hop artist Speech. Jessica has taught Augusto Boal technique at Yale University, deconstruction and Shakespeare analysis at Rocky River Community Theater in Cleveland and an Oral History and Poetry in Performance weekend workshop in the inner-city of Pittsburgh.
Deborah Mashibini (Assistant Director, DisAbility Project)
Deborah Mashibini has served as an advocate for artists outside of the mainstream for more than 25 years. As Assistant Director with the Coalition for the Homeless in New York, she facilitated one of the first programs in the country offering artists who were homeless opportunities to perform and exhibit their work. Their “Forgotten Voices/Unforgettable Dreams” anthology received national press attention and resulted in a stint on NPR’s Weekend Edition and the Sally Jesse Raphael Show.
As Assistant Director with VSA arts of New Mexico and on contract with VSA arts of Arizona, she helped develop an innovative arts-based day habilitation program serving adults with developmental disabilities, career support networks for professional and emerging artists with disabilities, and served as Director of a nationally recognized innovative AmeriCorps Program with a service corps of artists with and without disabilities. She is a staunch advocate for access and firmly believes in the positive potential of creative work and expression to transform communities. She is also a published poet.
What we are doing...
Owing to a generous Arts Connect All Award from VSA arts and the
MetLife Foundation, we are delighted to be able to continue
work with the VSA arts Playwright Discovery Program for a
fourth year. The grant is to support programs that create
or enhance inclusive, accessible education programming with public
VSA arts is an international nonprofit organization founded in 1974 upon the belief that the arts play a vital role in the lives of all people. VSA arts serves to communicate the power of the arts to positively shape the lives of people with disabilities.
The VSA arts Playwright Discovery Program is open to students in 6th-12th grade and challenges students of all abilities to take a closer look at the world around them, examine how disability affects their lives and the lives of others, and express their views through the art of playwriting. To be eligible, students must complete and submit a one-act play, created individually or in groups. Winning entries are presented at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
In previous years, we have taught free playwriting classes at Hancock Middle School, Roosevelt High School, and Lafayette Learning Center. Guest speakers from our DisAbility Project share their perspectives on disability culture and theatre. We challenge the students to think and empathize beyond most of their experience. "You let us think about how people feel that are different from us. Like people that can’t walk or can’t talk," said Desiree Watkins, age 14.
This season, Independent Teaching Artist, Jessica Laney and Uppity Assistant Director, Deborah Mashibini are facilitating the project with students from Barbara Shapiro’s English class at University City High School. In addition to studying disability culture, students are learning about narrative, structure, character, setting and other elements of theatre. The entire student body will be treated to a special performance by the DisAbility Project underwritten by Washington University. Special thanks to Cheryl Adelstein, Director of Community Relations and Local Governmental Affairs for arranging support for the performance.
You let us think about how people feel that are different from
us. Like people that can’t walk or can’t talk.
This is fantastic. The kids are really opening up.
Writing a play was amazing and a great experience.
I really learned a lot from this whole workshop. I learned
how to work with others, and the importance of the struggle that
people with disabilities go through. However the most important
thing I learned was that no matter what disability we have as people
that we are still beautiful human beings.
In the beginning it was hard writing this play because you had
to really think about how it was going to fit in and make sense.
… I started to brainstorm and I would ask one of the teachers if
they could read it and see if it made sense to them and they gave
me so much input and really helped me to think out of the box. My
confidence was so high and I felt good about it. I learned
three valuable things from Jessica and Deborah which are: if
you work hard at something that is hard you will overcome it, don’t
ever hold back, and have fun at it. I didn’t think I was
going to have fun but they made me really think and it was fun.
Acting takes a lot of work, you have to warm up, look at the script,
act out all the directions, and learn about angles and other things. …Also,
people with disabilities are just that, people with disabilities. We
shouldn’t say they’re disabled people because disabled means incapacitated
and that is just another word for “can’t do.”
I enjoyed the warm-ups in class. These warm-ups were very creative and I looked forward to them.
I have to admit that it was difficult to work in a group. At times I did not agree with what some of my group members were saying or adding. So, I guess that I really learned how to compromise. I also learned how to say what I thought without stepping on someone else’s idea. First I would talk to them about their idea and maybe say that it may be an even better scene if we added this or that.
One of the last things that I learned about participating in a
group is that even though at times we disagree, all of our ideas
can make a pretty interesting play. I would not have been
able to come up with this play on my own. Everyone contributed
something to this play. It was stressful at times but in
the end I remember it just being fun.
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Saint Louis, MO 63108