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The Glenvale Players: Canada's Premier Group of Blind and Vision-Impaired Theatre Artists

Editor's Note: Wanda Fitzgerald is President of the Glenvale Players, and lives in Toronto, Ontario.

Photo: Four members of the Glenvale Players, on stage, performing in "Cooking with Gus" in 2002. Wanda Fitzgerald, the author of this article and the president of the group, is one of the actors on stage.

When we speak of "seeing" a play, it is perceived as though sight is essential for either enjoying or participating in the theatre. The Glenvale Players are working to correct that misconception.

Founded in the early 1940's by the Ladies' Auxilliary of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in Toronto, the Glenvale Players' aim is to redress the exclusion of people with physical and sensory impairments, especially those related to blindness, from performance.

Our work extends beyond the normal criteria of a producing theatre company. We wish to become an integrated company of blind, vision-impaired and sighted artists, dedicated to finding, developing and exhibiting blind theatrical talent. We also endeavour to give our participants the experience and confidence to pursue goals in the mainstream entertainment and theatre communities.

Over its history, Glenvale has enjoyed a proven track record of successful productions, including dramas, comedies, mysteries and musicals. It has progressed from producing one play per year to three, and its shows are of a standard equal to competitive theatre projects.

Productions have included plays by James Barrie, Neil Simon and George Bernard Shaw, as well as plays written by Canadian playwrights Brian Tremblay, Morris Panych, George F. Walker and John Murrell. Earlier in our history, we presented plays written and directed by Gregory Heyn, who had a real vision for bringing together blind and sighted performers.

The Glenvale Players have begun participating in events such as the London Fringe Festival, and we have been featured on CBC radio's "Radio One" and "Out Front", CBC TV's "Moving On" and in a documentary on disability arts, produced by the Picasso Project in affiliation with SNIFF Inc. and the Toronto Theatre Alliance.

More importantly, Glenvale membership has tripled over the last two years, and we are producing original works written by our own members.

In 2003, we presented two one-act festivals. The first featured "The Meaning of Us" by Kelly MacDonald, "The New Age Job Agency" by Kurt Thomsen and "The Empty Portrait" by Wanda C. Fitzgerald. The second, which was a fundraising event, featured "Undermined" by Wanda Fitzgerald, "About 18 Minutes" by Kelly MacDonald and "Roach Motel" by Kurt Thomsen. Also featured in this show was a short play by London, Ontario playwright, Jason Rip--"Air Baby".

As well as producing original work, Glenvale has participated in workshops such as the Picasso Project's "Shakespearean Scene Study" in June of 2003, and members have been selected to participate in various writing workshops and to perform with other theatre companies.

In March 2004, the group presented Kelly MacDonald's "Down From Here", a crime thriller that was first presented at the Village Playhouse in Toronto, and then enjoyed a successful run at the London Fringe Festival in mid-summer.

In June, "Fall From Grace" by Wanda Fitzgerald, a historical drama depicting the life of Pope Joan, the only female pope, ran at the Village Playhouse.

The production of Fitzgerald's play was directed by Donna Michelle of New Harlem Productions, and featured other members of this company, which is mandated to produce works by artists of colour.

Currently, three Glenvale members have the pleasure of participating in non-Glenvale-related theatre events--Murray Powell in New Harlem Productions' "The Button", Kelly MacDonald in Amicus Theatre's production of "Funny Money", and Wanda Fitzgerald's play, "Practicing Art", has been selected for the New Ideas Festival to be held in March, 2005.

The 2004-05 season will begin in December with a dramatic recital of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". In April 2005, Glenvale will present a modern adaptation of "Antigone", directed by Janine Liliefeld of New Harlem Productions.

The Glenvale Players isn't a "blind theatre group", but a community group interested in presenting an outstanding theatre experience for everyone. It is hoped that, through public education and promotion, people who come to our shows will lose their fascination with trying to decide who is blind and who is not, and discover that "the play is the thing".

For more information or to get involved, contact us at 647-439-3203, email glenvale@rogers.com or visit the website at: http://www.glenvaleplayers.org

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