Theater of Liberation: The Voices of Suki
For me the most inspirational event of the Oaxaca Congress was a theater skit on the second evening. It was performed by a troupe of disabled actors who called themselves El Tren de Duermevela (The Train of Sleep-Waking). All the actors have spastic and/or athetoid cerebral palsy. The youngest is 12 years old, the oldest 22. They are members of ConNos/Otros, the Center of Conductive Education in Jiutepec, Morelos, Mexico.
The play, titled “Las Voces de Suki” (The Voices of Suki), was written by Ekiwah Adler Beléndez who also has cerebral palsy. In the opening scene, Suki, a young man with cerebral palsy, sits despondently in a tall-backed wooden therapy chair at center stage. Around him in the shadows sit the draped figures of his various moods, or Voices: Anger-and-Desperation, Fear, Shadow, the Injured-Child, the Spirit-of-Silence, the Voice-of-the-Heart, Will-power, and Hope. Another disabled actor plays the Therapist. Some of these Voices of Suki perch in wheel-chairs, most huddle on the floor. Anger-and-Desperation struggles to hold herself upright with a walker.
The various Voices take turns visually and verbally vying for Suki’s attention. However, many of the actors have difficulty forming words because of their oral spasticity. At one point Anger-and-Desperation gets into an argument with Hope. The rest of the Voices vote on which has the better, more reasonable view. They decide in favor of Hope. Then the Voice of the Heart begins to speak, the actor’s body contorting with spasticity. His distorted words are almost impossible to understand, but after each phrase an unidentified voice repeats clearly what he says. And it is pure poetry, beautifully exploring the passions of the human heart, and is a cry for understanding, acceptance, freedom and love.
At first, as the audience listens to the almost unintelligible sounds emerging from the contorted face of the actor, it would be easy to conclude that the person is just babbling mindlessly. But then one realizes—with the clarifying interpretation of his words—that he is reciting spell-binding poetry, and has perfectly memorized every line.
Then a transformational thing happens: to the music and poetry, the various “Voices of Suki,” together with Suki himself, begin to move in rhythmic harmony. Their contorted bodies and spastic limbs form an extraordinary symphony of motion—far from “normal” but hauntingly beautiful—like a painting of El Greco or Dalí. Then, most transformative of all, the faces and bodies of the actors, for all their distortions, begin to radiate a sense of joy, acceptance, and pride in who they are. Glorious and absolutely shameless! They thrive and delight in sharing with the world at large their vital artistry—with all its wonders and struggles, challenges and pain. The production was a wondrous, liberating experience for everyone, off stage and on. At the finale, the audience (or at least all who were able to do so) rose in a standing ovation. And the actors—empowered by the current of connection, their untamed bodies twisted with excitement—took their bows and, in their own strange way, beamed like a mist-melting sunrise.
I’ll never forget the exuberance and pride on the face of the youngest actor—a nerve-damaged but strangely beautiful 12-year-old boy—unable to walk yet in spirit able to soar! How fortunate he is to have as his peers such creative and liberating role models! … We all came away more bonded and less bound.
To contact the theater group, El Tren de Duermevela, or to make contributions, write to Mágara: Sermara@aol.com.