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“Along the Graveyard Path (A History of Disability)”
a new play researched and written by Theatre on the Spectrum
This project begins with the outcast bodies buried in Akron’s potter’s field. Theatre on the Spectrum, the performance wing of The Center for Applied Drama & Autism, has researched local archives and collections of oral histories from Akron’s disabled community, their family members and caretakers to give voice to their experiences of invisibility, segregation, hope and inclusion.
From the ashes strewn along Akron’s Graveyard Path in the 19th century to the effects of 21st century rules governing group homes and sheltered workshops, we are creating a performance piece for touring throughout the city and county. A series of public workshops offered in conjunction with the performance will allow participants to experience the effects of social invisibility and provide opportunities to develop connection and diversity within our community.
The disabled in the 19th century included unwed mothers, criminals, the mentally insane, and other societal rejects. In Akron, the first attempt at humane treatment was The Settlement House built upon a 150 acre farm complete with a Potter’s field where residents were buried - or were they?
This area is known locally as The Graveyard Path, officially as Schneider park. In 1919, a new facility was built in Munroe Falls to house all of Summit County’s rejects. In 1931, a state asylum system. known as Apple Creek was built in Wayne County — and the disabled were pushed even farther away from society.
The latter half of the 20th century saw a movement to bring disabled citizens back into society with the establishment of group homes and sheltered workshops. For some disabled citizens, these sheltered workshops were safe havens where they could work and make friends. Others felt that they were still essentially segregated and longed for jobs within regular workplaces and making living wages. With new rulings from the Center for Medicare Services, sweeping changes are taking place in our community and across the state.
When Covid19 locked us all down in March of 2020, Theatre on the Spectrum was in the final weeks of rehearsal for Along the Graveyard Path, our Knight Foundation Akron Arts Challenge project. We were to present our play at the University of Akron in mid April for feedback from scholars and friends at the university. And in August of this year, we were scheduled to premiere a final version at the Akron Civic Theatre's new black box theatre. All of that momentum came to a screeching halt as we were suddenly socially isolated and learning how to stay together via Zoom.
Six months into the pandemic, we have developed online rehearsal and performance techniques and experimented with live streaming, live Zoom room performances and prerecording within zoom to edit and release on YouTube. We are now preparing to redesign our production as a "radio" serial, recording most of the script as audio dramas. Our intent is to release our play as a timeline of the history of disability, a timeline that starts in Schneider Park, our original source of inspiration, then moves back in time to the earliest disabled human remains found in Neanderthal caves. From that point we move forward in time stopping to examine how a variety of cultures have treated their disabled citizens.
We will also include some visual footage that was shot by Josh Gippin as part of his documentary
The Forgotten Dead, now showing on PBS Western Reserve Channels 45/49. We are so grateful this footage exists that documents our work created to be performed live on a stage. Because we have no idea when it will be safe for us to return to a live venue for rehearsing and performing, we are agreed to push forward with our project and hope you will join us online for Along the Graveyard Path.
Above: Theatre on the Spectrum visits Schneider Park for a history lesson with University of Akron's Professor Tim Matney.
Below: Actors portraying residents of Akron's Poor House.
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Along the Graveyard Path -- the premise of the project
October 4, 2021
The Center for Applied Drama and Autism (CADA) is pleased to announce the long-awaited original production of Along the Graveyard Path (A History of Disability). The production will premiere on CADA’s YouTube channel beginning November 1st, 2021. Act One consists of eight weekly episodes that will be released every Monday through the end of December. Act Two begins January 3 with the same weekly release schedule through the end of March 2022. The company has spent the past year adapting the script into an audio docudrama focused on the history of disability. From prehistoric times to the present, Theatre on the Spectrum presents a timeline of shifting attitudes from rejection to empathy to inclusion.
This production was inspired by “The Poor Lost Souls of Akron,” a local history article on Akron’s pauper’s graveyard lying beneath Schneider Park, by Mark Price of the Akron Beacon Journal. Once the site of Akron’s Poor House, Schneider Park is the final resting place for many of its disabled citizens. The opening episode features Price’s article presented as a newsreel. It was filmed in collaboration with Josh Gippen, for The Forgotten Dead, his documentary on Schneider Park. Theatre on the Spectrum actors were filmed re-enacting scenes from the history of the poor house. Carolyn Behrman and Timothy Matney of the University of Akron’s Department of Anthropology, provided assistance sharing historical records and information about Schneider Park.
Along the Graveyard Path is a 2019 Knight Foundation Akron Arts Challenge award winner. This production was scheduled to be performed live on stage in the summer of 2020 with a cast of 18 actors and musicians. When the pandemic hit, CADA closed their studio in March of 2020 and moved entirely online. The company began the transition from stage play to audio drama. The scenes were recorded in Zoom during the height of the lockdown. There was much to learn about acting in Zoom. CADA provided a variety of supports and technology for our actors with autism and disabilities, while developing a digital media presence.
Featuring the music of disability rights activist and bard, Jeff Moyer, Along the Graveyard Path was directed by Wendy Duke, with Laura Valendza as assistant director, Cast members include Amanda Bugenske, Brian Cogar, Erica Crank, Jake Dietz, Jordan Euell, Sean Giannetti, Samir Hammoud, Scott Hudson, Sid Kranz, Dre’ia McCoy, Brandon Meeker, Joseph Moran, Ruben Ryan, Nicholas Santiago, Daniel Seemann, Cyrus Shariari, Laura Stitt, JT “Styles” Toomer, and Jude Yovichin.
Above: the cast of Along the Graveyard Path recording a scene in Zoom.