A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE EAST END SPECIAL PLAYERS
The EESP have been creating theater for 20 years. Started as a Saturday program for the developmentally disabled by the Towns of East Hampton and Southampton, their first director, Helen Rudman, chose theater as the emphasis of the program. There are some 25 actors who comprise the troupe. Some speak, others do not. Some can memorize their lines, others are prompted. Some are natural actors, others have to be coaxed on stage. But what they can do, what they have accomplished is, more often than not, astounding.
In the early days, the Players performed only in mime. Today they are not only acting with words and music, they are the authors of the play themselves. As the Players moved from playing other people's text to performing their own, they emphasized the nature of the human condition: we all look for jobs, love and friendship on our life journey. Their fist original play, You Are A Petunia In My Garden, was a composite work, a series of vignettes created by the players: what they do and feel and wish for as learning-challenged adults.
The EESP are currently working on a new show entitled Gigi: The Life of a Doll and have been touring with a short play, The Fish Juggler, which is a series of tableau vivant against a backdrop of whimsical paintings by costume and set designer, Gabrielle Raacke. This style of theater, tableau vivant, was initially popularized in the French court of the "sun king," Louis XIV. Ms. Raacke's works will be projected behind the Players, who will "strike the pose" as life imitates art, and then perform the skit that has been honed and written after several weeks of improv workshops held on Saturdays at the Bridgehampton Community Center. "I've always liked the idea," said artistic director Jacqui Leader. "The pictures tell such a fascinating story, I left it up to the Players to think outside the box, and see how they could stretch themselves."
Much of the credit for developing the skills of the actors can be handed to their director, Jacqui Leader who challenges her troupe to reach to the uppermost levels of their abilities and beyond. She taught them to speak, to enunciate, to learn lines, to search inside themselves for emotions and inspiration, to work as an ensemble, to take responsibility and pride in their work.
It takes more than year to develop the plays, but with each subsequent production the actors have stretched their abilities, thanks to Ms. Leader’s vision for them, with unique theatrical challenges. Most recently, they’ve tackled Commedia de l’Arte in Moliere’s the “Scams of Scapin”, romance in “Cyrano de Bergerac”, and ancient Irish myth in “The Legend of Deirdre.” Petunia was set against a backdrop of film, voice-overs and dramatic lighting design wrapping each scene in multi-media effects. Last year’s production, Kokrobite, took the players and the audience on a virtual journey through Ghana with the aid of an interactive video featuring performers at The Volta School for the Learning Challenged in Ghana.
The Players have performed at the Governor’s mansion in Albany, at Camp Venture in Westchester, at Guild Hall in East Hampton, Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, Westhampton Performing Arts and Southampton College. The Players have, also, done several performances in local High Schools receiving standing ovations, a heartwarming sight. The plays are fully realized theater presentations and in many past productions artists, dancers and musicians from the community join the Players on stage.
EESP has become a vital part of the lives of the participants. They have developed long-lasting friendships. Two couples have met through the organization and gone on to be married. This program fills a need for these individuals much like programs for seniors or teenagers. To our knowledge, EESP is one of the only such programs available in our area.
Our mission is to enhance the lives of learning challenged adults through theater arts and to make their world grow larger. To create in each Player a strong self-image with pride in himself or herself and to develop skills and talents which have heretofore not been tapped. Our goal is to reach out to other similarly engaged groups as well as audiences of all kinds and bring more visibility to this invisible segment of our society through increased funding for special projects.