Wildfire, researched and performed by actors with Down syndrome, is a play within a play within a play, exploring both freedom and imprisonment, through a story of forbidden love and institutionalization.
Here are thoughts on love from five of the show’s actors.
Judith [Thompson] wanted to do a play. At first we were calling it The Love Project. The subject was love, and it’s about two guys who are gay, one of them does not have Down syndrome and the other does have Down syndrome. It’s about how it doesn’t matter who you fall in love with, it doesn’t matter if someone has a disability or doesn’t have a disability.
We began to do workshops and rehearsals, and we talked about heavy things, about people with disabilities being sent into institutions in the past, real heavy material. It was very emotional.
This play, Wildfire, really opened me up, and I did a lot of research going into it. I somehow ended up on a tour of the Huronia institution, I also ended up learning from someone who had an experience in an institution, Peter Park (the head of People First, an organization representing survivors of Huronia and other institutions). I have to say that I’m so proud of being in this play, of doing all of these heavy things, even though it’s very tiring because of all the emotions, but that is real acting.
My life growing up was challenging and hard. Having Down syndrome is not so easy. When I was a baby there was a nurse who told my parents that I don’t matter to them, and that they didn’t have to keep me, that they should put me in an institution. I was just an infant, I didn’t know how to defend myself, or to stand up for myself. My parents were the ones to do that for me then. I didn’t know that happened to me until many years later when I became an adult. It’s wrong what happened to me, it’s discrimination, it is against my rights to be who I am, and what I am. I am in my adult years now and I still have a lot of growing up to do. I’m gay and looking for a serious boyfriend in the near future, and a marriage.
I’m an openly proud gay man who has Down syndrome. It is hard to find somebody who doesn’t have Down syndrome. It shouldn’t matter to anybody. It doesn’t matter if they’re black, white; disabilities, no disabilities. All of us deserve love. Everybody deserves love.
Wildfire is our own version of Romeo and Juliet, but it’s Romeo and Jazz—a same-sex couple. Dylan is playing Romeo, the person with Down syndrome, and I am playing Jazz, someone who doesn’t have Down syndrome, and there are issues around that. People are afraid of exploitation, and that can happen. That can happen to anybody. But sometimes there is real love.
Wildfire talks about politics, and love.
Love is not about being judged. Some people don’t see what it’s like to have Down syndrome, and they don’t care. I belong to the Canadian Down Syndrome Society. One time, we studied about what life would be like if we lived in an institution called Huronia, where people were abused and mistreated. Some people died in there. Some people became catatonic.
My mom was a good advocate for me, growing up. She would never put me in an awful place. She helped me to live a regular life, and she taught me lots of things to help me in my journey, to be a better man, to see the good things in people and help me to grow inside. She said, those institutions are not for you, Andreas. So she put me in a regular school, and it was a good school. My mom helped me pursue acting. The theatre is like my home.
This play that I’m doing, Wildfire, helps me to know that everyone is different, but that everyone should be treated with love and compassion. Not like a puppet on a string. When I look into my girlfriend’s eyes, I don’t see someone with a problem. I see someone with gifts.
People should listen to one another and learn to understand each other. To be loved is to understand love much better. We should be involved with one another. To communicate is to talk to one another straight and forward.
I am a lesbian woman, and when I watch Nick and Dylan playing the roles of Romeo and Jazz, a gay couple, it makes me feel very happy.
When I’m on the bus I always hear school kids teasing each other about being gay or lesbian and that’s used to put down the other person. Sometimes when me and my girlfriend go out for lunch or dinner we overhear strangers picking on us saying, Oh look at them, they’re lesbians, look at them holding hands. Sometimes they lean in to hear our conversation. It makes me and my girlfriend feel very hurt and very upset. Sometimes it makes us leave the restaurant.
Nick and Dylan are passionate about their love. They stand up for their love, and their love is treated with respect and kindness by others. Some of the scenes hold a special place in my heart because it makes me think of me and my girlfriend. Love comes in many different ways. There are straight couples. There are gay and lesbian and transgender couples in the world. There is love in families between parents and children and uncles and aunts and cousins and siblings. Love is like the power of a flower that grows and stays strong.
Gays and lesbians should be treated with respect and kindness because we are people with feelings. But when we hear other people picking on us, saying bad and hurtful things about us, it makes us feel bad and worthless. It makes us feel like we don’t exist. No one has the right to do that.
There are different types of love. Unconditional love from a friend and from family, as well as romantic love. I have felt all types of love throughout my life, and I am grateful for these feelings and experiences as I always try to keep it real with my heart. Love is special. Love can be painful, but love can also be great, especially with someone you care about and who cares for you.
When you are in a relationship, you can’t let other people tell you what is right or what to do because love comes straight from the heart. Don’t let others judge your boyfriend or girlfriend. Relationships are built on trust, honesty, and caring about each other—no judgment. It bothers me when people hurt each other in relationships…. breaking each other’s hearts. I speak from personal experience as some of my past romantic relationships did not work out and I got hurt in the process. I cared about them more than they cared about me… I don’t want anyone else to feel this type of pain.
I am proud to be part of Wildfire and it is fun to be able to express myself on stage using different artistic forms like song and dance. Although I play a “bad guy,” I have some very emotional and touching scenes that will make you cry.
I am Suzanne, I am a strong black woman, I am wildfire!
Wildfire, starring Krystal, Nicholas, Andreas, Sarah, and Suzanne, is on at Soulpepper until May 20.For tickets or more information, click here