Inevitable Theatre Company (ITC) got its start in Dallas, Texas in 2007, but relocated to St. Louis, Missouri in 2017, and performer Sherry Jo Ward has been involved with ITC and Artistic Director Robert Neblett from the beginning. Neblett became aware of her production STIFF: A Fast-Paced Comedy About Moving Slow and recognized a chance to begin “formally organizing” around issues of accessibility. Written and performed by Ward, STIFF is an account of her life-changing diagnosis and onset of Stiff Person Syndrome (SPS), a rare disease that impairs mobility and causes unexplained pain. One estimate finds only one in one million people are diagnosed with SPS.
Ward describes the production as “part stand-up comedy, part PowerPoint presentation.” It’s a first-person account of what it means to re-assess one’s own goals and ambition when confronted with a life-altering diagnosis. Ward first performed STIFF for audiences in Dallas at the Festival of Independent Theatres. She won recognition for Best Actress and Best New Play for the Dallas-Fort Worth Theatre Critics Forum.
To bring award-winning work from Texas to St. Louis for new audiences, Inevitable Theatre Company sought a Regional Touring Program (RTP) grant. An RTP grant allowed ITC to bring Ward from Dallas to St. Louis and stage her full performance, in addition to partnering with St. Louis organization Paraquad, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering people with disabilities to increase their independence through choice and opportunity. Paraquad brought panelists and guests to performances, in addition to formal outreach activities conducted by ITC and Paraquad with Ward.
“Because all of these types of activities were based in an open spirit of sharing, rather than a pedagogical approach of ‘educating,’ it felt to us that this event truly linked us in a very personal way to our local community, especially those marginalized members whose experiences often make them feel excluded from such events,” said Neblett. “This project blossomed into an experience far more profound than any of the artistic staff or board members ever imagined, and it has touched us deeply, with a lasting effect that has been felt in the local community as well. Our partnership with Paraquad has solidified our dedication to collaborating with other nonprofit partners in the future to fully explore the intimate intersection of the arts and societal change.”
M-AAA’s President and CEO Todd Stein got to join the audience for one of these special performances. He is pictured below with the production’s Director Marianne Galloway, Writer/Performer Sherry Jo Ward, and M-AAA Board Member/Missouri Arts Council Executive Director Michael Donovan.