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3 Impactful Parts of A Fierce Kind of Love

helenaff's picture

For me, one of the most impactful parts of the performance was when the reporter arrives at Pennhurst. The lights go out, and the spotlight is on him, casting the long, lone shadow of his standing figure. The lighting pulled all focus to him (and/or the ASL interpreters, who got similar spotlights) helping to ensure that the audience will focus on what he will say. There is no set of Pennhurst, rather the audience is reliant on his description. He starts with one sense, smell, which can’t be reported to others through television. The smell of 80 people in one room, sitting in their own excrement. A smell so powerful that the cameraman begs for them to leave. But it’s because of the smell, and the horrid conditions that caused it, and because of the people who are suffering that they must stay and report the story.


Lori’s resistance to taking the sign reading “Retarded” spoke volumes, as did it being broken on the knee, however it would have been so much more impactful to have one of the disabled actors destroy it. That’s what I initially thought, but after a bit more reflection I think that as is, this scene is powerfully representative of how, under the direction of disabled people, nondisabled disability activists are able to help them achieve their goals, which is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. Or, if the man was still acting in his historical figure role when breaking the sign, it shows how the language around disability can be, and should be, determined by disabled people, and officials (of all kinds) need to respect their authority to do so.


By focusing in depth on a few personal stories of the largest driving forces from the PA disability movement, the performance was very effective at communicating the grassroots origins of the movement, and how people became activists out of necessity for family or themselves. I think that the chalk timeline and how it overlapped important historic events in the disability rights history of PA with the birthdates and life events of the actors was a necessary inclusion to the performance. It created a physical, visual representation for the dates which had been referenced orally throughout the rest of the performance, which I found helpful for retroactively organizing the scenes in my head. But more importantly, the overlap with the actors’ lives served as a testament that all these historic events all happened very recently, and can’t and shouldn’t be separated from present day (like many civil rights movements are), since the efforts that began then are continuing now.