‘A sacred space to make art’

March 11, 2019

The University of Saint Francis Jesters didn’t devote months preparing a recital for a mere 30 people.

The performing group of people with disabilities instead sacrificed their Saturdays since September to co-create a feature-length, multimedia production for an audience of 400 to 450.

Director Allison Ballard described the effort as an almost impossible task, noting the cast comprised about 70 people with developmental disabilities.

But, as Sunday once again proved, the Jesters rise to the challenge : stage fright and all.

“They love it,” Ballard said minutes after the group culminated the 2018-19 season with a standing ovation in a packed North Campus auditorium.

Along with addressing themes of gratitude, compassion and forgiveness, the show : “Here and Now” : celebrated the Jesters’ 40th anniversary.

During the show, several cast members noted they were repeat participants, their experience ranging from a few years to more than a decade. The organization has provided comfort and enabled self-expression, some said.

“I love Jesters because I like to sing and dance,” another said.

Ballard credits the program’s longevity to meeting a community need.

While it’s valuable to give anyone opportunities for self-expression, she said, it’s particularly important for people with disabilities because it’s more difficult for them to find a forum for their voice.

“We give them a stage,” Ballard said.

Sunday’s performance began with an outline so the Jesters could contribute to the production, Ballard said. They wrote dialogue, planned choreography, took photographs for a slide show, helped create animation sequences and helped compile a song list.

Onstage, the Jesters acted out scenes, danced, sang and played instruments and shared plans of creating a time capsule : a participant’s idea.

They also shared personal tidbits, such as being thankful for their adoptive parents, forgiving friends after fights and surviving cancer : stories that anyone can relate to, with or without disabilities, Ballard said.

Through Jesters, she said, “We are creating a sacred space to make art.”