I recently attended a children's play put on by the EMU Theater titled, “Still Life with Iris.” The play was originally written by Steven Dietz and the production at EMU was directed by Patricia Moore Zimmer.
The day I went, the performance was labeled as an “Accessible Performance.” From reading up on the theatre’s website before the show, I knew that the goal of the accessible performance was to enhance the theatre-going experience of patrons with sensory impairments.
In order to meet this goal, the theatre offered audio headsets, subtitles, two ASL interpreters on stage and guided tours of the set before the performance.
Furthermore, upon walking into the theatre’s entrance, one was greeted with various sensory friendly experiences, each one suited for one of the five senses.
You could play a toy piano like the one used on stage. You could chew on a tootsie roll to simulate chocolate. There was even a miniature 3-D set you could touch to simulate what the real thing was like.
To round out its approach, the theatre had a “relax room.” The relax room was offered as a chance for theatre goers to take a break from stimulation. There were fiber optic lamps, painting books, a bubble tube, fidget spinners and more.
I think it’s great to see the theatre being more inclusive in who can enjoy their production and I applaud their efforts. I also applaud the play itself. Making it more accessible and putting so much work into that side, one might be led into believing the actual play suffered. But, it didn’t!
In fact, I loved the play. I found it to be highly engaging on a multitude of levels. The basic plot follows Iris, a girl living on Nocturno, a magical land. On Nocturno, memories are woven into “pastcoats.” When Iris gets chosen by the Great Goods, she is forced to give up her pastcoat and leave her memories behind in order to please them. All that remains with her, is a fallen-off button. She soon escapes from the Great Goods and journeys with Mozart and Annabelle Lee who help reunite her with her family, her memories and her home.
That’s just a short synopsis of the play. But through that, I think you can see that although labeled as a children’s play, “Still Life With Iris” carries underlying heavy themes. A particular thing I came out of the theatre with, was dwelling on what a person really is.
Iris takes off her pastcoat and loses all her memories. She forgets who she is but still knows that she in fact is still living. And she can’t help but think that there’s more to her life than what she remembers. But since she can’t remember, there’s no way to know that. The Iris that was is no more without her memories. In almost all ways, she’s an entirely new person.
So you can see the questions that arise. What makes us, us? Is it our memories, our past? Or is it our body, carrying the same beating heart, the same breathing lungs. Where does soul and spirit fit in? Without memory, you might think you’d have an identity crisis. But you wouldn’t because you wouldn’t even be able to remember a reason for having one.
George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Without our pasts, we would be stuck in a type of endless circular rhythm. I came out of “Still Life With Iris” with a more complete understanding of who I am, through pondering on what makes that so. I encourage you to go see the production! For the play in itself and to show support for a theatre making efforts toward being accessible to everyone. Both measures deserve a round of applause.