It started with a lion tamer, unicorn trainer and the world’s heaviest man. Everything else, came later.
“I asked them, if you can be any character in the circus, what would you be?” said Carmen Dowell, a local special Olympics advocate and organizer Creative Chaos, an annual play centered around a cast made up of community members who live with disabilities.
This will be the second year Dowell has taken on the project, one she started when her best friend had a dream.
“The idea behind it actually came about when my best friend, Monica Venice wanted to be on stage,” Dowell said. Monica, who has Down Syndrome, had watched Dowell take part in local plays at Cottage Theatre and expressed an interest in acting. “So, I took her to an audition and the director pulls me aside and asks why I brought her and why I was making them do through this,” Dowell said. “It was the first time I had experience discrimination and it was my mission to get her on stage.”
Venice eventually landed a part in “Gypsy” and then again in “Willy Wonka.” As stage manager, Dowell was able to bring her Special Olympics athletes to a dress rehearsal to see Venice in action.
“They started asking me when I was going to get them on stage so I saw there was a real desire and a real need,” Dowell said.
She had the idea, she had the cast, all Dowell needed was a stage and she found one in partnership with the Opal Center.
“We met every Monday and just workshopped off their characters they had picked,” Dowell said. By early August, she had a story and then a set and then costumes. Last weekend’s opening night was sold out.
“The cool thing about this project is that I have a couple of actors who are known verbal,” Dowell said. “Or they can’t really talk or they can talk but you can’t really understand what they’re trying to sat so it was a little challenging.”
That’s where the early summer workshops came in. Dowell was able to work with each actor and assess their strengths and weaknesses. She learned that Mike, 65, really only talks when he wants to so in Creative Chaos, he enters the stage and hands Dowell a card.
“And the card says, ‘Hi, my name is Mike and I have the world’s most contagious laugh.’ And for some reason, I found out that he loves Buddha statues. He will crack up laughing every time he sees one. So, I take the card and we go over to a statue I got and pull off a towel and he laughs the most incredible laugh,” Dowell said.
Ages for the acting troupe range between 19 and 65 but Dowell said everyone found a part from tightrope walker to unicorn tamer.
“The curtain went up on Friday night and everyone knew their lines and their parts, it was great,” Dowell said. “It’s great to see them get to be on stage and they’ve done interviews and to see them have the experience of other actors, it’s wonderful.”
Creative Chaos played to a packed house last year and so far, is on track to do the same this year with shows scheduled for Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the Opal Center.
For more information, to volunteer or to be a part of Creative Chaos, contact Dowell at [email protected]