Saturday, June 11, 2011

In Russia, actors with disabilities unite to produce plays about social exclusion

From AFP:

MOSCOW — On a small stage in a rented basement in Moscow, people with Down's Syndrome have become the lead actors in their own dramas.

In a country where 85 percent of children born with Down's Syndrome, or trisomy, are still abandoned in boarding schools -- often on the advice of doctors -- this theatre is helping to lessen the sense of isolation they feel.

"Theatre is my life, I have nothing else apart from this," said Aleksey Krykin, a 49-year-old man with Down's Syndrome.

Created in 1999 by director Igor Neupokoyev, the Theatre of the Naive now unites 20 artists with disabilities and the plays they produce often revolve around the theme of social exclusion.

"This is the only place where these people rejected by society, can express themselves... They do not even need to act. It is their own life that they talk about, "said Neupokoyev.

"They are much more sincere in their emotions than professional actors. They leave no one indifferent."

Most of the actors are from Moscow's only charitable centre for adults with Down's Syndrome financed by the Norwegian embassy and established in 1993 by Svetlana Egorova, whose daughter Elena suffers from the syndrome.

Elena, 42, used to spend most of her time at home watching television before her mother founded the centre with help of other parents of disabled children.

"In general, our children are studying in specialised secondary schools, as ordinary schools admit them rarely and reluctantly," Egorova said.

But it becomes worse, she said, after they leave school as "there is nothing for them in Russia in terms of specialised education and job opportunities.

"They have nowhere to go."

The centre, in rented rooms in a municipal club for children, can only accommodate about thirty trisomics. But there are hundreds in Moscow, said Egorova.

Elena now comes here every day to take flute, dance and crafts classes.

"I love to tinker with things," she said with smile as she glued a tree made of red paper to her drawing.

But they have to leave before the arrival of other students who have courses in the building in the afternoon.

"Parents do not want their children to communicate with those whom Russian society is accustomed to labelling as idiots," Egorova said.

First described in 1866 by British physician John Langdon Down, trisomy 21, often known as Down's Syndrome, is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of an extra 21st chromosome.

Its holders suffer from a mental impairment that varies greatly among individuals.

"The deficiency can be significantly reduced through appropriate exercises, but stereotypes here are still very strong," said Lyudmila Loboda from the charitable foundation for Russian children with Down?s Syndrome, Downside Up.

According to the foundation, about 2,500 children with Down?s Syndrome are born each year in Russia with the majority living in institutions.