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Imagination and memory on stage in new show
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A new production by Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts encourages actors and artists to inspire one another as they tell their life stories. (Photo Courtesy of Interact)
Everyone experiences the world differently -- some more differently than others. It's those differences that make understanding one another so difficult sometimes. This is all too true for people with disabilities. A new show at Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts in Minneapolis invites audiences to step into their world.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Interact's theater is lit like an underground jazz club. Smoke billows around the heads of singers dressed in gold lame. They wear large hats that look like ashtrays. They are the "cigars of beauty." They're just part of one of the many surreal elements in this exploration of imagination and memory.

Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts is a place where artists with disabilities can paint, perform, and create as professionals. "Imagination and Memory" is a collaboration between Interact Center's theater troupe and its visual arts department.

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Image Puppetry and performance art

It's part of an effort to get artists to stretch themselves and inspire one another. The show is rich with imagery. Shadow puppets become city streets and car accidents. A cartoonist sits at his easel as the audience sees the stories in his brain come to life on screen, and on stage.

Artistic director Jeanne Calvit says the production has pushed all the artists in new ways.

"It allowed a lot of artists to express things in a way they hadn't before," says Calvit. "I think people are feeling very touched by it -- extremely moved and very touched -- at the same time, kind of amazed at all the visual imagery and magic in the visual aspects of it."

Each of the performers draws upon personal experiences to tell stories that deal with memory and imagination. In one scene, an actor who is blind describes how he imagines different colors. Behind him, images created by visual artists dance on a screen, allowing the audience to see into the head of someone without sight.

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Image Imagining colors

Artist Tacoumba Aiken collaborated with Interact on the work. Aiken stresses that he was not there to teach anyone; he says these artists are his equals.

"I learned a lot while I was there, but I think there's a lot more to learn," says Aiken. "They have a true believer [in me], that this is what should be happening to people with such immense talents. It doesn't matter if they have physical challenges. They've met those challenges, and they're moving on."

Aiken says the show may seem fragmented at first, as it flows in and out of people's memories and dreams. But in the end, the audience comes away with something greater than the sum of its parts.

"People will, if you spend time with them, give you a hint, a glimpse of who they are. That's what I think the whole sense of this memories and imagination collaboration was about," says Aiken.

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Image Dreaming of Down Syndrome

Interact artist Mark Veblen usually paints abstracts. But for this show he helped build shadow puppets and manipulated them behind the projection screen. Veblen, a schizophrenic, says he thinks "Imagination and Memory" is one of Interact's better shows.

"It's a good outlet to the public, that isn't glossed over in any way about handicapped people," says Veblen. "I think it has a positive affect."

Veblen says it was fun to get caught up in the drama of the theater world and watch the actors primping backstage. But he doesn't know if he'll continue to do more theater.

"I really wonder how articulate..." He pauses. "I'm a painter, so I wonder how articulate painters can be in drama productions. But if they ask me to, I would."

"Imagination and Memory" runs through Dec. 18, 2004, at the Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts in downtown Minneapolis.

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