RARE created and directed by Judith Thompson, written and performed by Sarah Carney, Dylan Harman, James Hazlett, Nick Herd, Suzanne Love, Mike Liu, Nada Mayla, Krystal Nausbaum and Andreas Prinz. Presented by RARE Theatre Company at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House). Previews from Monday (January 28), opens Wednesday (January 30) and runs to February 7, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday and Saturday 2 pm. $20-$30, stu $15. 416-866-8666. See listing.
If you missed the sold-out performances of RARE last Fringe, you've got another chance. This week, Judith Thompson's ensemble piece written by and starring nine adults with Down syndrome plays the Young Centre in an expanded form. True to that title, it's a rare achievement.
"There are groups out there, like DramaWay, that teach drama and theatre practice to people with Down syndrome, and they do a great job," says Thompson, one of the country's best-known playwrights.
"But I wanted to create a trenchant play where people could tell their own stories, look behind the masks. I had no agenda. All I told the artists is, ‘Don't be afraid to tell the truth. You don't have to be liked - you will be liked - but don't just say what you think we want to hear.'"
The gloriously diverse group of performers open up about any number of things, from their experiences of love and loss to their work and what they hope to achieve.
Thompson's previous collaborations with non-professionals include Body & Soul, about the stories of aging women, and The Grace Project: Sick!, about young people living with real or perceived illnesses.
Krystal Nausbaum was part of Sick! and remembers loving the experience. She smiles, recalling last summer's standing ovations for RARE.
"I'm not nervous about being onstage," says Nausbaum, who starred in the TV movie The Memory Keeper's Daughter. Her mother, Madeleine Greey, was a producer of the original Fringe version of RARE.
"I love to write scripts. My favourite thing is to go to a coffee shop and write for hours, to turn it into a play."
In the show, Nausbaum brings up two of the more moving themes: prenatal testing and motherhood.
"Theatre works best with issues that aren't easy," says Thompson, who offers up the statistic that 97 per cent of parents who discover their child will have Down syndrome choose to terminate the pregnancy.
"So many shows featuring people with disabilities are about feeling good. ‘Hey, we can sing and dance. Aren't we sweet?' Yes, but there's so much more to explore."
RARE marks the beginning of a three-year association with the Young Centre, thanks to Soulpepper artistic director Albert Schultz.
"Next we're going to deal with people living with spinal injuries, who live their lives in wheelchairs," says Thompson. The piece will be workshopped this year, followed by a full production in 2014.
After that comes a play featuring artists from the deaf community.
And how has working on these projects affected her own work? She's got a play coming out next year as part of Ken Gass's inaugural Canadian Rep Theatre.
"It just reminds me how important simplicity and authenticity are to storytelling," she says. "And making the invisible become visible."