Back in February I attended the Senior Showcase of the University of Oklahoma's School of Drama. In the lobby afterwards, I spoke with several of the students about their goals and plans for the future once they graduate. I was particularly impressed by a student named Jodianne Loyd. Aside from acting, her interests include occupational therapy and its role in the theatre. Her enthusiasm on the subject was contagious and prompted me to conduct this interview.
Kate McCoy: Can you explain what an All-Abilities Theatre is? What exactly does that term mean?
Jodianne Loyd: Of course! There are varying terms when it comes to this type of theatre. There are several accessible theaters (in which theatre is accessible to disabled audiences and/or disabled performers), and there are theaters for specific disabilities like Deaf theatre, Downs Theatre, etc. All-Abilities Theatre is an umbrella term for “anyone is welcome and accommodated, audience or performer.” Neurotypical, neurodivergent, able-bodied, disabled, seasoned performers and first timers, kids and adults are all able to create together.
KM: This is a wonderful concept. How did you first hear about it?
JL: In Oklahoma City there was a community theatre called KidsAlive! which called themselves an All-Abilities Theatre. I am actually unsure how universal this terminology is acknowledged, but I would sure like it to be!
KM: Absolutely - I love the inclusivity it provides.
JL: For sure. I was so blessed to work for KidsAlive! as an acting teacher, director and stage manager for its last season before they closed their curtains.
KM: I imagine you had some pretty memorable experiences working with the kids. Any standouts?
JL: I directed “A Year in the Life with Frog and Toad Jr.” with a cast of 3-year-olds to 10-year-olds. Our kiddos had a range of experiences and abilities, but one child stands out in particular. This kid had the coolest wheelchair with light up wheels, the brightest smile, but was quite shy. All of the children played several parts (that is the nature of a large show and a small cast). However, over the course of rehearsals this kid had learned every single part and quickly became the star of the show, singing with the loudest voice and the biggest dance moves, a performance so filled with joy that it spread to everyone in the audience!
Photo courtesy of Jodianne Loyd
KM: That’s awesome. That’s definitely a memory those kids will take with them for the rest of their lives.
JL: I hope so - it will definitely be with me the rest of my life!
KM: When I spoke with you in the lobby after your Senior Showcase, you mentioned you want to start an All-Abilities Theatre of your own (which was the impetus for this interview). What inspired that decision?
JL: I actually have to credit a mom I met years ago during a high school internship at a local pediatric therapy clinic. I told her about my extracurriculars and that I felt like I had to choose either theatre or occupational therapy, and I wished there was a way to combine them. She told me that her kids were all in various activities from music, dance, sports and visual arts and she found that even with accommodations, people were just forcing kids to fit within a system that was not made for them. That is when it all started. I began to ask why we could not change the system? Why can’t art and therapy unite recreationally? Why can’t we create a system to benefit everyone?
KM: An excellent point. What steps are you taking to pursue that mission?
JL: In the Fall I will be attending an Occupational Therapy program. Currently I am deciding between a few offers. Occupational Therapy is a wonderful field that looks at the body and mind holistically. In physical therapy, a problem is addressed by focusing on the area of concern. Occupational Therapy expands to understand how everything operates together. Specifically in pediatrics, there is an emphasis on social-emotional skills where pretend play, scripting, and creating stories are utilized. Now all that needs to happen is empirical research and a re-evaluation of the theatre infrastructure currently in place.
KM: Can you expound on the real-world application of theatrical therapeutic practices?
JL: Yes! One of my favorite researchers is Thalia Goldstein who has been exploring the intersection between Acting and Psychology. She has a wonderful paper called “Dramatic pretend play games uniquely improve emotional control in young children” which provides an empirical structure to explore this area more. The paper compares three groups of children: one group acts out stories, one group listens to stories, and the last is the control group that plays with blocks. Then they go through a series of tests to determine if acting has any effect on empathy, theory of mind, altruism, comforting, etc. As theater-makers we know the power of stories and Goldstein is providing empirical research to supplement that. With this knowledge we can focus on the development of social-emotional skills.
KM: It’s such an important topic that I don’t think gets enough attention. Thanks so much for your time, Jodianne. I know you have a lot on your plate right now. What other projects do you have on the horizon?
JL: My current project is directing my own adaptation of Antigone at The University of Oklahoma. For the past year I have been writing this adaptation, writing proposals to the school, casting, and now finally we are in the rehearsal room! It is such a fun experience so far. We perform at the end of April. I have long held the opinion that theatre always attracts a similar audience, and if we want a diverse audience we have to take the theatre to them. We will be having an outdoor performance in the center of campus for anyone to watch, and we will also have streaming available starting in May. After that, my focus is graduating and making a few more memories with my class before we spread out to various cities!
Promotional photo for Jodianne's adaptation of Antigone. Photo credit: Drew Lotter
KM: I’ll post a link here to the stream once you have it available. Best of luck to you! It sounds like exciting things are on the horizon.
JL: Thank you!
Explore more of Jodianne's work at jodianneloyd.com.