Paul Rogers is the president of the board of directors for the East End Special Players. He spoke about their work and an upcoming gala.
How did the East End Special Players come to be?
It started over 25 years ago, with effort from people from both the Town of Southampton and the Town of East Hampton who perceived the need for an organization to provide a service for adults with developmental disabilities. It started out with the participants basically doing mime in the performances, because for many people with disabilities, it’s difficult to speak in public or they might have speech issues. It got of the ground and got support from both towns financially. Southampton provided the space, and it was off and running.
Not long after that, Jacqui Leader became the director. She has a unique set of gifts that are appropriate for her to be at the helm of the organization. She recognizes that people with disabilities also have abilities and she’s excellent at spotting them. Gradually, people in the group became more vocal, some people lost their fears about speaking in public. That’s sort of viewed as a milestone of progress made by the organization in terms of the quality of expression it allows for people. They did shows for different things, they did a Molière play, they did “Cyrano de Bergerac.” They put on an Irish folk play and they imported a group of Irish dancers. They had a variety of different productions.
How have things changed since then?
More recently, about five years ago, Jacqui and other people thought it would be nice to talk about things that are important to them, share experiences. The staff recognized there was meaty stuff there that could be used as a play about the East End Special Players. What it’s like to have the disability. With the participation of the group, “You’re a Petunia in My Garden” was written, and for the first time the work that was presented was written by/conceived by the players. It was extremely well received. There’s a lot of humor involved. When we performed at local high schools, the humor was definitely well appreciated. We did that several times, we also performed it at Dowling College, where they have courses teaching people who will teach those with developmental disabilities. Then they wrote “Gigi: The Life of a Doll,” which was a bunch of skits that they had conceived but was even more personal. It included some of the traumas that occurred in the lives of the players, but still with a heavy dose of theater.
How has your organization changed the stereotype of the developmentally disabled on the East End?
To the extent that we’ve been able to perform publically for those who hadn’t seen us. There’s a core group of supporters that starts with family and friends. It’s grown, not as much as we would like, because it’s often hard to interest people. But certainly in high schools, I’ve been told by administrators that students were touched, I’ve received letters from superintendents of schools thanking me. Having been a parent of three teenagers, I do know they listen and they take it in. I think it furthers the belief and the concept that people who have disabilities also have skills and personalities and senses of humor and they can be hurt and they can be funny. By performing in public places, we remind people of that.
When and where is your upcoming gala?
It’s this coming Saturday, September 19, and it goes from 5 to 7 p.m. at the home of Marie-Eve and Michel Berty on Sayre’s Path in Wainscott. It’s a gala fundraiser. There will be an art auction, and a reverse auction, where people will be told about certain things we need. The proceeds will be used for the general program—we have to have a fundraiser to keep our bank balance in the black. A scene from a new production the players are working on will be shown at the gala.
Tickets for Saturday’s gala cost $75 and are available at eastendspecialplayers.com.