July 15, 2024

An evening filled with singing, dancing, laughter and tears earned a standing ovation from those who came to watch an extraordinary play, RARE, at the Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts in Kitchener.
The Nov. 2 production helped celebrate Elmira District Community Living’s 50th anniversary.
“Elmira District Community Living is an association like many associations across Ontario … we provide supports and services to families and individuals with intellectual disabilities,” said Greg Bechard, the executive director of the association.
The play, based in Toronto, consisted of nine cast members, all with Down syndrome, who showcased their talents as a group and as individuals.
Because it was National Down Syndrome Week, the association thought it was the perfect way to celebrate their special year.
“Our thought was, let’s give something back, so this is a gift to the community that recognizes our 50th anniversary … what more could you say about Down syndrome than to witness that performance. It says it all; more than anybody could ever say or begin to describe. If you didn’t know those individuals before, you certainly knew them at the end of it,” Bechard said.
Judith Thompson, the artistic director of RARE Theatre Company, scripted the play from the raw emotions and thoughts of the cast members themselves.
“ … It’s about who they are underneath the mask of Down syndrome; underneath the generalizations that we all make,” Thompson said.
The play started out with the cast standing in a wide circle wearing white masks. Once the masks were taken off, the personalities and feeling of the individuals were revealed. The cast members recited lines, danced and sang. They told their stories and shared their thoughts about love, family, friends and what it is like to live with Down syndrome. The emotional performance had the captivated audience laughing, clapping, crying and cheering.
“It’s not just them being sweet, or dancing around in black light with wands or lip syncing … no, this is their play,” Thompson said. “It went wonderfully tonight.”
The RARE Theatre Company is now working on its next play, Borne. The show, which will feature eight quadriplegics and four paraplegics, premieres July 1, 2014, in Toronto at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.
For further information, go to www.elmiradcl.com.