"Telethon!" 2016: The Mission
"Telethon!" is a virtual, theatrical event taking place on The Lark's blog every Tuesday and Thursday this September, produced by The Apothetae and The Lark to raise awareness and support for The Apothetae and Lark Initiative and Playwriting Fellowship. Each week, The Apothetae and The Lark will publish new videos created by members of the community, inspired by The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon, an event that has faced criticism not only for using Disabled people as a fundraising tool, but also for focusing the public's attention on medical cures to "normalize" people with disabilities. The Apothetae and The Lark see this as an opportunity for Disabled artists to begin to reclaim agency and ownership around their stories, images, and bodies.
The Mission: Gregg Mozgala
Video Direction and Content Management: Kristjan Thor
Special Thanks to The New York Conservatory for the Dramatic Arts
“(Disability) is endlessly fascinating because there is that universal element…It is the one minority class in which anyone can become a member of at any time.”
- John Belluso, Playwright
This is an apocryphal story, but one that has become firmly woven into my own personal narrative and mythology.
I turned twelve years old in 1990. One day I remember being pulled out of class. This was not uncommon. I was always being excused for Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, or to work with the LD Resource teacher. This time was different. The librarian, Mrs. Brown, took me to a back room off the library where there were around half a dozen adults I had never met before with various physical disabilities. One older gentleman, whom was blind, had a dog. That was cool.
There were greetings and cordial conversations all around until Mrs. Brown turned on a television she had wheeled out from the A.V. room. I was excited at the prospect of watching a movie, but was quickly disappointed when it seemed to be some boring news report featuring President George H.W. Bush standing behind a podium speaking and signing some sort of paper. What we were watching was a recording of the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act. I had no idea what the ADA was. If I were paying closer attention I might have remembered hearing, “Today’s legislation brings us closer to that day when no Americans will ever again be deprived of their basic guarantees of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but I was too engrossed in my copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, that I had bought at the school’s book fair earlier that day, which I was now reading secretly under the table. The video ended and after a few moments the adults in the room all began to comment on what a momentous occasion this was.
I remember thinking, “If this is such a momentous occasion, why isn’t the entire school watching?”
I was eventually excused and I walked back to class alone. The sound of my metal braces echoed and reverberated through the cavernous hallways of my elementary school. As I glimpsed my ungainly shadow limping and looming huge beside me, I felt like Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster.
This experience set the tone for my feelings and interactions with the Disabled Community for most of my life. For years I would enter into situations, usually initiated by well-meaning persons, with a group of strangers whose only common trait was some sort of disability. These were intended to be inclusive, but instead proved mostly isolating and confusing. As I got older, I would engage and talk less about my issues and experience. I suffered for this, because I was constantly denying my disability; a huge part of my own humanity. I’ve since learned that only through honest interaction and collaboration, can habitual perceptions be altered and new ways of being and seeing one another be achieved.
This is why I have chosen Theater as my life’s profession. I believe Theater offers one of the greatest venues for perceptions about Disability to change; it is immediate, events happen in real time, and it demands participation. It also provides visibility, creates community, and serves as a place of inclusion and a forum for ideas.
The ADA is an important, imperfect piece of legislation for a group of important, imperfect folks. 2015 marked the 25th Anniversary of the bill. I believe over two decades ago in that room off the library it became something more for me.
Americans with Disabilities Act.
Americans with Disabilites…Act!
This is a directive.
A battle cry.
A way of life.
It reminds me that I am in control of my own life course, and if one believes in that sort of thing, my own destiny. We all are.
The Disabled Community, and the experiences of that community, are incredibly varied and complex. The experience of someone with cerebral palsy, for instance, is very different from that of an amputee or someone who is visually impaired or suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome. There are commonalities to be sure, but I believe what makes Disability hard to define and codify is the same thing that makes it inherently dramatic in nature.
In my own life, I don't just hang out with disabled people. Nor am I only interested in "Disabled stories;" ones that more often than not show us triumphing over adversity. I am a thirty-something crippled white guy. I was the third of four children raised by a first-generation Italian mother with strong Catholic beliefs and a father who spent twenty plus years in the United States Navy. I was born with a disability, but Disability does not consume my life. Most of our lives are taken up with love, and loss, and work, and sex, and family, and the day to day struggle for our lives —just like anyone else.
It is my firm belief the artist’s job is never to say, “this is the way things are,” or “this is what you should think about this,” but rather explore the questions surrounding the issue and make them visible. Every time I work I want the questions to become clearer. The creation of new works and the re-appropriation of existing works help frame our experience in a historical context while simultaneously creating new mythologies. It finally allows us to take ownership of our personal and collective identity.
We are an incredibly rich and diverse community with many stories to tell. The Disabled community needs space to nurture its talent and experiment. That's exactly what "Telethon!" is. An experiment.
The Fellowship and Initiative are born directly out of conversations with members of the Disabled and Deaf Communities in May of 2015 and January of 2016. At both convenings, three major needs were expressed:
- More Material.
- More Opportunities (which can come with more material).
- More chances to convene as a Community.
The Apothetae and The Lark listened, and together we are trying to answer the needs expressed by a huge swath of representatives (disabled and non-disabled alike), from the Disability Community within the Theater Community. I am grateful for everyone who has lent their talents, time, ideas, and energy thus far.
We hope you enjoy this. We hope you'll join us!
-Gregg Mozgala, Founder & Artistic Director of The Apothetae
Thank you for tuning in to "Telethon!" 2016 on The Lark's blog!
The Apothetae and The Lark are eager to launch this new Initiative, and are ready to do so as soon as we have the funds in place! We are currently seeking major supporters to help us make our plans possible. If you are interested in helping us please contact Development Manager, Roni Ferretti at
Check back each week for new content, and get involved by sharing your thoughts in the comments section, or by signing up for The Apothetae and Lark Initiative's dedicated email list to receive updates. To donate, access The Lark's donation form and enter "The Apothetae" under "Notes Regarding Gift."