Adaptive Theater

Wednesday, Apr. 9, 2014 9:58 am

A majority of Grinnell students end up studying off campus sometime during their four years at the College. Some, winners of special fellowships, travel on special educational missions even after they graduate.

Teddy Hoffman ’14, Grinnell’s most recent Watson fellow, will spend the year following his graduation studying adaptive theatre in South Africa, New Zealand, India, and Ghana.

Hoffman, a double major in English and theatre, found that the application process for the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship helped him hone his varied interests into a strong application.

Initially, Hoffman was looking at dramatic therapy, but that ended up being too research-focused and didn’t fit the Watson mold. He then shifted his proposal’s focus to adaptive theatre, and the more he thought about it, the more he realized he had a true passion for it.

Hoffman has volunteered with the Edina, Minn. Parks and Recreation’s adaptive theatre for several years. At first he thought it simply was nice to encourage people with physical disabilities and non-neurotypical individuals to perform onstage. After seeing their performances, the illusion that this was just nice was destroyed. “I still consider the definitive rendition of “Maria” from West Side Story to be the one that was belted by a young man with Down syndrome. I could see Maria when he sang about her,” Hoffman says.

“Everyone has a story to tell,” Hoffman says. But often, people with physical disabilities or those who are non-neurotypical aren’t given the opportunity to tell their own stories. Look at Hollywood. In movies like Forrest Gump, I Am Sam, My Left Foot, and Rain Man, physically able, neurotypical actors played characters with disabilities. Although their performances were inspiring and received high praise, they are indicative of a problem. Why is the stage dominated by neurotypical and ‘normal bodied’ actors? Why are those labeled as ‘disabled’ limited to workshops and kept out of the spotlight?” Hoffman asks.

In his international study of adaptive theatre programs, Hoffman hopes to gain insight into how other countries view these imaginations. “While a year abroad is not enough to grasp the entire scope of global disability rights, I want to come back with a picture of how other countries treat their differently-abled citizens through theater, and how such a perspective can open minds both artistically and socially,” he says.

Teddy Hoffman ’14 is a double major in English and theatre from Edina, Minn.