The theatre has had disabled actors working on par with other performers.
The Small Theatre in Yerevan has some special performances to offer as part of its regular repertoire. They have been termed ‘inclusive’ as they feature actors with disabilities alongside able-bodied performers.
Vahan Badalyan, the theatre’s artistic director, says that while these productions are excellent in their own right, they are also an attempt to challenge society’s perceptions of people with disabilities.
It all started in 2014. First, there was a dancing class for the disabled. Then, the country’s first ever inclusive theatre and dance troupe was put together, emulating the famous London-based Candoco Dance Company. The British Council’s Dancing Without Borders programme helped fund it into existence.
The first production, Don’t Leave Me, premiered in October 2014.
“When they asked me to work with the group, I agreed right away,” said Vahan Badalyan. “This was a completely new life experience. I’d even say it opened a new world to me.”
Mher Zalinyan, 26, says he joined the troupe three years ago, though he had had nothing to do with the theatre and worked at Full Life NGO dealing with problems that the disabled had.
“When I learned about the programme, I immediately applied to it. I underwent several stages and ended up in the theatre. One just needs diligence, patience and moral courage,” says Mher, who has a musculoskeletal disorder.
The group members believe that the programme has changed not only their lives, but also those of their spectators, who leave the hall after a performance with a completely different viewpoint.
All group members suffer from movement disorders, including twenty-one-year-old Manuk. He says he has fallen in love with the theatre and can’t imagine life without rehearsals and performances:
“I have changed, I have become freer. Now I’m one of many, I’m not different from others.”
Marianna Poghosyan, an Armenian Opera and Ballet Theatre dancer:
“We dance together. So, first of all, you should understand who they are, what their merits are and what makes them different from others. And this understanding allows you to unite their and your own efforts to successfully achieve a common goal. The most important thing that the theatre gives them is positive self-esteem with regard to their personality and potential, as well as the ability to express themselves. It’s a ‘fertile ground’ for their integration into the community.”
Vahan Badalyan tries to take the disabled up to a certain professional level and to ensure that the theatre isn’t just a hangout place for them:
“It certainly requires hard work to maximally develop their potential and to achieve their full engagement. We selected them based on different merits and, first and foremost, proceeding from their motivation. Their physical abilities were also taken into account of course, but their willpower and readiness to work were far more important for us. We had a guest from Germany yesterday who said he only noticed that an artist had a health problem during the curtain call. And that’s what we’ve been aspiring to: to ensure that these guys aren’t differentiated.”