Focusing on Ability within “The Trumpet of the Swan”

{0 Comments}

Director Shelley Bolman reminds us that “We’re all, when it comes down to it, on the spectrum of ability versus disability. I want to encourage everyone to see people for their abilities, for what they can do, not for their limitations… just as Cob eventually does for Louis.” It’s about focusing on ability.

Elbert Joseph (EJ), a Deaf, Caribbean-American actor, performs as "Louis" in "The Trumpet of The Swan," a show with a theme of focusing on ability

Elbert Joseph (EJ), a Deaf, Caribbean-American actor, performs as “Louis” in “The Trumpet of The Swan”

For example. When Louis goes to school, he learns to read and write. When he gets his trumpet, he teaches himself to play. It never occurs to him that he might not be able to do these things. Not being able to make sounds with his voice is a challenge for Louis, but it doesn’t slow him down. He just finds other ways to say what he wants or needs.


“The idea that each of us has our own particular ways of tackling challenges, of communicating our ideas, of learning or doing something new, goes beyond the notion of ability or disability.”


Wheelock Family Theatre teaching artist Donna Folan puts it this way. “The idea that each of us has our own particular ways of tackling challenges, of communicating our ideas, of learning or doing something new, goes beyond the notion of ability or disability. It is a universal truth of the human condition; it is part of what makes each of us — delightfully and distinctively — exactly who we are.”

Focusing on Ability and the Person

The words we use today to describe people with disabilities are very different from those people might have used in the 1970s. As Shelly Bolman mentions, negative words and phrases like ‘defective’ or ‘handicapped’ were common. Today, we try to use language that puts the person first, and the disability or condition second. So, instead of saying, “She’s a spina bifida kid,” you would say “She is a child with spina bifida.”

Also, instead of saying that someone is ‘confined to a wheelchair,’ you might say that the person ‘uses a wheelchair’ or ‘is a wheelchair user’. Suddenly, we are talking about the wheelchair as an instrument of freedom instead of one of confinement or imprisonment. The wheelchair becomes a vehicle, like a car or a bike or roller skates, that allows its user to move about freely and independently.

This post originally appeared on the Wheelock Family Theatre Blog. Wheelock Family Theatre provides teaching guides for all of its productions.

Tickets for Wheelock Family Theatre’s production of “The Trumpet of The Swan” are on sale now. Reserve your seats today.

WATCH: Trailer for The Trumpet of The Swan