It's not easy to try new things with Collin. We have to consider accessibility, restrooms, eating schedule, and any factors that might scare or over stimulate him. Once there, we deal with the unpredictable: unhelpful staff, narrow walkways, stares and comments. It's high-five time if we leave an event and can say, "Hey, that wasn't too bad!"
So, when we drove home in quiet awe last Saturday morning, it felt pretty magical.
The show was called Bleu! and it was performed by Compagnia TPO, an Italian theater company that creates beautiful, interactive theater experiences for children. We had stumbled across it on the event calendar for The Kentucky Center and saw that they were offering a special performance for children with sensory issues. I saw the pictures of the underwater stage set, imagined Collin laughing and kicking, and bought our tickets.
The morning started hours before show time with shifts in Collin's schedule and the process of packing and preparing to leave. We always show up at least half an hour early to allow for complications (and there are always some) and to give Collin time to settle in and figure out where he is. So we were a little nervous when we arrived and learned that everyone would be entering the theater together right before the show.
We were doing as much of Collin's pre-show preparation as we could in the waiting area when a tall man in a suit approached us. "It would be my pleasure to take one of you upstairs so you can pick the best seat for your needs." I had trouble getting coherent words out through my gaping mouth, but I followed him.
In the theater, he and the manager helped me pick a great spot for Collin, rearranged some chairs to make it ideal, and then asked me whether and how I preferred Collin to participate in the show. I must have looked confused. Because of his wheelchair, I assumed he would just be watching. But they were serious. And eager for Collin to join in.
When the time came for everyone to enter the theater, we were escorted up the elevator and to our seats. As we entered the darkened room, Collin's eyes shot open. They stayed that way for the next hour.
The performance had no dialogue - only sounds, music, lights, and dance. Not what you would expect a 6 year-old boy to love. But for the entire hour, Collin was riveted. No sounds of discontent, not even any squeals of laughter. He was glued to what was happening in a way I had never seen. Children were invited onto the stage and Collin watched them pop giant bubbles, ride in a boat of light, stand on glowing stars.
Then a little over halfway through, one of the two performers stepped toward us and gestured for Collin to join her. We unlocked his wheelchair and he glided out onto the stage. My eyes stung as he moved away from us with the sea nymph and together, they chased schools of fish. With his face turned up to the blue lights, swimming in wide circles under the surface of the ocean, he was a picture of freedom and joy.
After the show, the performers came out to meet the audience. The man who had played the sailor paid special attention to Collin, but not with any kind of pity. He genuinely liked him. He didn't show any discomfort if he felt it and he seemed to be content just being near Collin. It made my heart swell with happiness.
If all this weren't enough, during the meet and greet time we connected with another family - the family of the theater manager who had rearranged seats for us earlier - whose daughter also uses a wheelchair. I can't describe what it's like to be out in public - a performing arts center, a restaurant, a store - and to come across someone who speaks your language. Someone who sees you and doesn't feel the need to turn away.
To be honest, it was all a little overwhelming. The stars rarely align in that particular way. So we drove home mostly in quiet, savoring the magic of the morning.
Photo credits: www.kentuckycenter.org