A Fierce Kind of Love

Institute On Disabilities Presents A Fierce Kind Of Love

World Premiere Of A New Play By Suli Holum, Directed By David Bradley And Featuring A Mixed Ability Cast

April 7 – 17, Christ Church Neighborhood House, Philadelphia

Temple University’s Institute on Disabilities presents the world premiere of A Fierce Kind of Love, a play by Drama Desk-nominee and Pig Iron Theatre Company co-founder Suli Holum and directed by Philadelphia theater veteran David Bradley. An exploration of the intellectual disabilities rights movement in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, the play runs from April 7-17, 2016 at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American Street, Philadelphia.

In a collage of text, movement and song, A Fierce Kind of Love shares stories and perspectives from a largely untold civil rights story of the past 50 years, in which parents, siblings, activists and advocates with intellectual disabilities struggled for equality and inclusion. The play features a cast of mixed abilities, including five well-known Philadelphia-area performers (Barrymore Award winners Charlie DelMarcelle, Lee Ann Etzold, Marcia Saunders and Cathy Simpson and Barrymore nominee Brian Anthony Wilson) and four community performers with intellectual disabilities (Shawn Aleong, Michael McClendon, Lori McFarland and Erin McNulty).

Celia Feinstein, Co-Executive Director of the Institute on Disabilities, notes that A Fierce Kind of Love continues the Institute’s commitment to addressing disability as a valued aspect of diversity throughout civic life. “This play, and its unique cast, highlight what it means to have a society that embraces people of all abilities,” Feinstein said. “And this is very timely. As we marked the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act last year, we still have a long way to go in terms of providing access for and acceptance of people with disabilities.”

A Fierce Kind of Love combines landmark events in the intellectual disability rights movement, such as broadcasting icon Bill Baldini’s 1968 NBC-TV expose on the Pennhurst State School and Hospital and Pennsylvania’s 1971 Right to Education case (the first in the country to guarantee public education for people with disabilities) with the intimate stories of parents, siblings and cast members which chronicle political activism, family heartache and personal triumphs.

Throughout, original music by seven-time Barrymore winning composer Christopher Colucci and choreography by Nichole Canuso bring the ensemble together in explorations of how people of all abilities move, sing and create together.

“This play brings two distinctive components together in one event,” says director David Bradley. “We’re telling an important, and not-well-known civil rights story, and we’re doing it with the kind of cast you rarely see onstage together.” Bradley, a long-time company member at People’s Light and frequent collaborator on civic-themed theater projects with the National Constitution Center, commented that the play is a leading example of the kind of onstage inclusion that’s been highlighted in national conversations in the theater world, spurred by a recent American Theater magazine article and the Deaf West Theater production of Spring Awakening featuring deaf actors and the first actor who uses a wheelchair in a Broadway show.

Playwright Holum, whose play Gentleman Volunteers, created with Pig Iron, had a 20th Anniversary re-mounting at Fringe Arts in December 2015, and who was a 2014 Drama Desk nominee for her solo performance Chimera noted, “This event resonates for me in intimate and large ways. I was struck by the fierce love of mothers and fathers who fought for better options for their children when that was hard to do. I was moved by the courage of people with disabilities who speak for their own rights. And I’m inspired by this collaboration—the creative way the Institute chose to make these stories heard and the beauty of this cast and how they relate to the material and each other.”

Feinstein commented that A Fierce Kind of Love is the centerpiece of a multi-component endeavor that celebrates the stories of intellectual disability rights and points to the ongoing need for activism and greater inclusion in society. Other events include Here, a photo and audio exhibit at Philadelphia’s City Hall featuring work by award-winning photographer JJ Tiziou; a Story Slam in partnership with First Person Arts, several town hall discussions and a workshop on using personal stories to create theater, led by Bradley and Holum.

A Fierce Kind of Love has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Creative Team and Cast

Playwright Suli Holum is an award-winning director, performer, choreographer and playwright based in Brooklyn, NY. She is Co-Artistic Director of Stein | Holum Projects (SHP) with playwright Deborah Stein.  SHP projects include: Drama Desk nominated solo show CHIMERA, developed at HERE, premiered at Under The Radar and toured to The Gate, London; MOVERS + SHAKERS, recipient of the Loewe Award from New Dramatists and developed at UCSD; THE WHOLEHEARTED, commissioned by ArtsEmerson, developed at FringeArts and supported by the New England Foundation of the Arts National Touring Project; and MAN CAMP, currently under construction. Holum was a co-founder of Pig Iron Theatre Company, developing original work between 1995 and 2006 including as a creator/performer in SHUT EYE with legendary director Joseph Chaikin, and playwright for GENTLEMEN VOLUNTEERS, awarded a ‘Spirit of the Fringe’ Award at Edinburgh Fringe and published in Pig Iron: 3 Plays (53rd Street Press). Her first solo show, THE LOLLIPOP PROJECT, was developed through an Independence Foundation Individual Artist Fellowship and a Shell Fellowship in Drama from the National Institute of Education, Singapore. Her other recent work as a devising writer of new performance includes WANDERING ALICE with Nichole Canuso Dance Company and OEDIPUS AT FDR with Emmanuelle Delpech, FIGHTING FOR DEMOCRACY at the National Constitution Center, and ONE BEACH ROAD with RedCape Theatre, UK.   Her work has been supported by Workhaus Collective, The Playlabs Festival at the Playwrights Center, NACL, Perry Mansfield New Works Festival and Actors Theatre of Louisville, the Swarthmore Project, the Creativity Fund at New Dramatists, ArtsEmerson, New Georges, Clubbed Thumb, and Playwrights’ Horizons.  She teaches at Pace University.

Director David Bradley is a director, producer and teaching artist whose work includes making plays, leading a range of boundary-crossing artistic collaborations and exploring civic and community themes through the arts. A long-time company member at People’s Light, his more than 30 productions include Row After Row, Of Mice and Men, The CrucibleA View From the Bridge, Young Lady From RwandaDoubtThe Giver and three holiday pantos. David is Founding Director of LiveConnections, which creates innovative, collaborative music programs for adults and youth out of partner venue World Cafe Live. He’s Artistic Director of Living News, in its 10th season of dramatizing Constitutional issues at the National Constitution Center, where he also directed the exhibition/theater hybrid Fighting for Democracy, written by Suli Holum.  He’s a frequent collaborator with Philadelphia Young Playwrights, leading a range of multi-generational collaborations, including directing The Lost Hour at the Kimmel Center for the 2013 Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. David is a participating artist with Outside the Wire, which creates theater projects addressing public health and social issues, and has led and facilitated projects for them at conferences and military bases across the country and in the Middle East. He teaches at Arcadia University and has taught at University of the Arts. David is a graduate of Yale University. 

Composer and Sound designer Christopher Colucci is a seven-time Barrymore Award winner for Outstanding Music and Sound Design. His recent favorite projects include Metamorphoses (Arden); Disgraced (PTC); Peter and the Starcatcher (Walnut); Smoke (Theater Exile). In 2012, Christopher was the recipient of an Independence Foundation Fellowship in the Arts. 

Choreographer Nichole Canuso is the artistic director of Nichole Canuso Dance. She has performed and collaborated with Headlong, Pig Iron Theater Company, Theater Exile, Early Morning Opera, Bill Irwin. Support for Canuso’s choreography includes grants from The National Endowment for the Arts and The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage and choreographic residencies at Maggie Allesse National Center for Choreography (MANCC), Millay Colony for the Arts (NY), BiLateral Exchange (Budapest, Hungary).

Scenic designer Colin McIlvaine’s recent credits include: Smoke (Theatre Exile), Lights Rise on Grace (Azuka Theatre), According to Goldman (Act 2 Playhouse), Three Christs of Manhattan (Interact Theatre).  Lighting designer Lily Fossner’s credits include People's Light, Act II, TACT, Culture Project/Public Theatre, Prospect Theater Company, NYU/Grad Acting, Chautauqua Theater Company, Berkshire Theatre Festival, and Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Costumes will be designed by nine time Barrymore Award Nominee and two time Barrymore Award Winner Rosemarie McKelvey.

Charlie DelMarcelle, actor has appeared at: The Walnut Street Theatre, The Arden Theatre Co., Theater Horizon, Delaware Theatre Co., Inis Nua, The Lantern Theatre, Azuka Theatre Collective, EgoPo Classic Theatre, Commonwealth Classic Theatre, Delaware Shakespeare Festival, Shakespeare in Clark Park, White Box Theatre, and Amaryllis. 

Lee Ann Etzold, actor, is a Philadelphia-based theatre artist who has worked in the UK, Spain, France, Czech Republic, and regionally in the US. She is a founding member of OBIE award-winning physical theatre company, New Paradise Laboratories, and has also created original work independently, and with Pig Iron Theatre Company, Headlong Dance Theatre, Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental, Charlotte Ford, and Tony Award winner, Bill Irwin (Barrymore Award Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play).  A VA Tech grad, she studied clown in Paris, completed the Lincoln Center Theatre’s, Director’s Lab, in New York, and is a member of the Young Vic Directors Programme in London. She is a teaching artist and has also directed new works for Philly Young Playwrights, 1812 Productions, Brat Productions, Brian Sanders’ JUNK, and is creating neighborhood art in South Philadelphia.

Marcia Saunders, actor, has been an active member of the acting company with The People’s Light and Theater since 1976 appearing in over 85 productions. Most recently, Marcia can be seen as Mrs. Jennings in SENSE & SENSIBILITY.

Cathy Simpson, actor, is a company member of People’s Light and the “Freedom Rising” Company at the National Constitution Center.  Her work in some local theatres include InterAct, Philadelphia Theatre Company, Philly Shakes, Hedgerow Theatre, Arden Theatre, Wilma Theater, Flashpoint Theatre and Theatre Horizon. Regional theater credits include, Arena Stage, The Kennedy Center, Studio Theatre, Source Theatre, Wooly Mammoth, Olney Theatre Center, St. Louis Black Rep, St. Louis Rep., Indiana Rep.

 A three, time Barrymore nominee and a winner for the Freedom Theatre production of The Old Settler, and a Kevin Kline Award winner for St. Louis Black Rep’s production of, A Song for Coretta.  She has also been nominated twice for the Helen Hayes Awards in Washington D.C. and won the Best Performer Award in Toyama, Japan.  Her film and television credits include, local television commercials, PBS Educational Series, Indy films as well as 1st Run Films. 

Brian Anthony Wilson, actor,  has appeared recently in many theatrical productions including: "Driving Miss Daisy" (Act II Playhouse), "All My Sons" (People's Light), "The Last Jimmy" (Grand Performances, L.A.), "Hand's Up (Flashpoint), "Rage of Achilles" (Commonwealth Classic) & "A Midsummer's Night Dream" (Phila. Shakespeare Co.). Film/TV credits include: CREED, The Benefactor, Crooked & Narrow, When The Moon Was Twice As Big, Zombie Killers : E.G., Assumption of Risk, Limitless / Blue Bloods, Broad City, Do No Harm, Law & Order : S.V.U., The Sopranos & The Wire.

Shawn Aelong, Lori McFarland, Michael MClendon and Erin McNulty are delighted to be making their acting debuts in A Fierce Kind of Love.

A Fierce Kind of Love runs April 7 – 17, 2016. In an effort to make our performances fully accessible, every performance will be CART captioned, ASL interpreted and sensory friendly. Audio description is available upon request. Tickets are a suggested donation of $10 and are available online at afiercekindoflove.org or by calling the Institute on Disabilities at (215) 204-1356. Christ Church Neighborhood House is located at 20 N American St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, Phone: (215) 922-1695.

About the Institute on Disabilities

The Institute on Disabilities is Pennsylvania’s University Center for Excellence at Temple
University. Since its inception, the Institute has continued to innovate and serve in four core areas – pre-professional training, community training and technical assistance, research and information dissemination. Located within Temple University’s College of Education, the Institute addresses disability as a valued aspect of diversity throughout civic life. We model our initiatives on input gathered from people with disabilities in many communities; throughout Pennsylvania, our supports and training provide for improved quality of life, and help shape progressive policy and research agendas with and on behalf of people with disabilities and families.

Performance Dates & Times
A Fierce Kind of Love runs April 7 – 17, 2016

April 7 (Premiere, 7:00 pm)
April 9 (7:00 pm)
April 10 (4:00 pm)
April 14 (7:00 pm)
April 15 (7:00 pm)
April 16 (7:00 pm)
April 17 (Closing Night, 4:00 pm)

Community Events
Here. Stories from Selinsgrove Center and KenCrest Services is a photo/audio exhibit which provides a glimpse into the lives of people with intellectual disabilities who live and work in segregated settings.  The exhibit addresses questions of equity, inclusion, and the ways society provides (or doesn't provide) access and opportunity for all. Photographs by award winning photographer JJ Tiziou; audio interviews recorded by volunteers and curated by Nicki Pombier Berger and Lisa Sonneborn. March 4 – May 6, City Hall, Philadelphia

Stories in Play
This engaging, interactive workshop, led by the creators of A Fierce Kind of Love, will introduce participants of all abilities and experiences to techniques for bringing personal stories to life in movement, song and performance. The focus will be on how diverse groups of mixed abilities can come together and form energized, cohesive and creative ensembles. April 9, 1pm – 3pm, Christ Church Neighborhood House, Philadelphia

Sib Slam with First Person Arts.
A night of story telling about our first friends and enemies – our siblings. Special curated program of stories about siblings with disabilities. April 13, 7PM Christ Church Neighborhood House.

Lecture: Fierce Love, Activism and the Role of Parents.
A panel of nationally renowned disabilities studies scholars and advocates will discuss the history of parent activism, the role parents continue to play in shaping disability policy, and the fierce love required to raise a child with a disability. Moderated by award winning journalist and metro columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, Ronnie Polaneczky. April 6, 9am12:30pm Temple University.

Press Contacts:

Lisa Sonneborn

Susan Fullam

Susan Fullam