by Gail M. Burns, May 2007

"O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beautious mankind is!
O brave new world
That has such people in't!"

- William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, scene i

While “Stars in the Ocean, Sand in the Sky” was CATA’s 12th annual gala performance in celebration of its 14th year of programming, it was my first time attending the event, and I have to say it lived up to all my expectations. This is obviously not a review in the sense that I am going to critically analyze the content and performances to enable you to decide whether or not to purchase a ticket. “Stars in the Ocean, Sand in the Sky” will never be performed again, and if you choose to attend next year’s CATA event it will be not only because of its possible entertainment value, but because of your interest in supporting CATA’s work.

Founded by Sandra Newman in 1993, Community Access to the Arts (CATA) is a Great Barrington-based non-profit arts organization, with the goal of using the arts as a common ground to connect traditionally marginalized populations with the community-at-large. They currently offer about 1,000 workshops annually, actively involving 500 individuals with developmental, physical, emotional and/or mental disabilities, the majority of whom are Berkshire County residents. The workshops take place in healthcare, therapeutic, eldercare, educational, community and cultural settings

CATA works to lessen the stigma of difference and disability and to enhance public awareness of the valuable contributions all individuals can offer their communities by providing opportunities for shared experiences in the arts.

I have a problem with the uses and abuses of the words ability and disability. After all, everyone has both in abundance. The first time I ever encountered the word “disability” to refer to a healthy, natural state, was when I was pregnant. Being able to conceive and carry a new life to term is NOT a disability, it is an ability, and a vitally important one to the survival of the species. We have this misguided notion that having a disability means being unhealthy, and that is simply not the case. It is possible to be blind or deaf or mentally challenged or confined to a wheelchair and be perfectly healthy, just as it is possible for someone like Lance Armstrong to get cancer.

If I were to disable a machine, it would cease to function, but people commonly referred to as disabled can function very well. Giving those people the opportunity to paint and sew and sculpt and dance and sing and juggle and act is what CATA is all about. Their annual gala program gives participants in CATA’s performing arts workshops a chance to show what they have learned. This year’s show featured singing, dancing (tap and modern), juggling, and acting, all ASL-interpreted by Trudy Gilbert.

The Founders’ Theatre at Shakespeare & Company provided a comfortable and accessible location for the show. The theatre looked wonderful, with set pieces suspended from the balconies and ceiling that had been designed and constructed by CATA participants through a community partnership with IS183 under the direction of CATA Faculty Artists Susie Hardcastle and Caitlin Nash.

The performance was dedicated to the memory of dancer Marisa Yudkin, who died in February. A video of some of the remarkable work Yudkin had done with Dawn Lane, along with still photos of her having fun with family, friends, and fellow CATA participants was shown.

The program opened with two interconnected and lively musical numbers directed by Vikki True, accompanied by Peter Schneider, and performed by a variety of different groups – The Serenaders, the Valleyhead Special Choir, the Walker Street Strutters, and students from the Lee and Lenox middle and high schools and Monument Mountain. “Stars, Ocean, Sand, Sky” was an original CATA composition by True, but “We’re All in This Together,” by Matthew Gerrard, is the finale of that ubiquitous monstrosity, Disney’s “High School Musical.” But I have to say that this was the one and only place in the whole universe that that silly song could be meaningfully rendered, and the obvious joy the participants took in singing it made me tap my toes and clap along.

“Through all the tumult and the strife I hear the music ringing; It finds an echo in my soul— How can I keep from singing?” - Robert Lowry

The Tap Murmurs – Jane Cole, Keller Dinan, Kathy Horan, Mary Huberman, Josephine MacDonald, Marissa Rose, Tanny Labshere, Teresa Thomas, Pam Tuliebitz, Tracy Salvadore, and Laurie Sunderland – choreographed by Stefanie Weber took the stage next. While tap has its roots in many forms of ethnic dance, one American form was born of captivity – African-American slaves, forbidden to get up and dance, hammered nails into the soles of their shoes and invented a way to dance sitting down. It is an artistic expression created by people who refused to be refused.

Weber and her company did an excellent job of assisting the CATA performers when they needed it without upstaging or hindering them in anyway. Each CATA dancer got a solo spot, which highlighted their individual ways of moving. A special stand-out was the young woman who performed her own solo number which she accompanied by whistling. They also used some of the “sand in the sky” to do a little of the old soft-shoe.

Next JoAnne Spies and Dan Waite performed “Standing in a Circle” a music/theatre piece co-created using the words of R. Carlos Nakai, Nawang Khechog, Amy Sequenzia and Waite. Spies and Waite made a charming team. I found Waite’s smile infectious and his stage presence delightful.

After remarks by CATA founder Sandra Newman and the video celebrating Yudkin’s life and work, the live performances continued with The Juggling Connection – Natasha Lorick, Teresa Thomas, and David Zahorian – under the direction of Roger Reed, who, I might add, was the first to drop a ball! The piece was a delightful mix of gentle comedy and the skillful manipulation of colorful beach balls.

Dawn Lane and The Moving Company – Susan Booth, Hazel Elsbach, JoAnne King, Louisa Millonzi, Carol Ray, Marissa Rose, Tracy Salvadore, Teresa Thomas, and Olivia Wilber – performed an evocative modern dance piece entitled “Zenith” to the music of Thomas Newman. Some company members demonstrated great flexibility and agility in a piece that included fugue-like movements where dancers in different areas of the stage and on the balcony repeated the same motions.

As Lane and Company left and the stage started to be set for the final piece someone behind me said “Shakespeare!” And soon the buzz went through the theatre “Shakespeare! Shakespeare!”

Shakespeare’s Players – Matthew Baxter, Annie Bradley, Jane Cole, Ellen Gerlich, Mary Huberman, Natasha Lorick, Mary Maltzoff, Cathy Marden, Diane McManus, Josephine Monserud, Eric Schumann, Laurie Sunderland, Teresa Thomas, Pam Tuliebitz, Kellie Ward, and Davis Zahorian – under the direction of Barby Cardillo and Diane Prusha performed bit from “The Tempest.” While there was more acting than speaking, and while the plot of the play was completely discarded in favor of an enactment of the tempest at sea and a comedy scene involving Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban, there was no doubt that this was Shakespeare, and the excitement in the theatre was palpable.

The Shakespeare piece seemed to me the ultimate proof of the Bard’s accessibility. Over the years Shakespeare & Company has proven that students as young as 3rd and 4th grade are perfectly capable of understanding and presenting Shakespeare’s words. Here, the actors did not memorize their lines, but they knew exactly what they were about and played the scenes clearly for the audience.

Good theatre teaches you something about yourself. I was raised in a world where a great deal is expected and nothing is ever good enough. If you can’t be the best, you can’t be.

CATA has created a world where a great deal is asked and everything is welcome. If you can be, you may be, and if you may be, you are.

O brave new world!

CATA is the place where I can shine!

at CATA I became a better poet
for many people wanted to listen to my voice
I became a better listener
when the voices of my friends came to me

CATA is respect, love, fun, work

CATA makes me feel special
I am special
CATA makes everyone feel and be special

there is no other place like CATA
there you can speak with your finger, sing with your
hands, act with only a smile, dance with your eyes
Everybody is a star

CATA is the place where I can shine!
even when I'm far away"

- Amy Sequenzia, CATA Participant

The 2007 Community Access to the Arts production of "The Stars in the Ocean, The Sand in the Sky" was presented during the gala on Saturday, May 12 and at 1 p.m. on Sunday, May 13 at the Founders' Theatre at Shakespeare & Company on Kemble Street in Lenox, MA. No further performances are planned. For more information on CATA and its programs call 413-528-5485 or visit their Web site

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2007

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