In the fall of 1997, The Rainbow Players began performing together through a program, “Open Arms”, to support community inclusion and “naturally occurring friendships”. The group spanned the ages of 16-44, from high school special education programs along with other adult participants from the local area. Matched with a “non-disabled” peer, they joined once a month at an Open Mic Cabaret to tell stories, sing songs, dance and recite theatrical passages from memory. All of the sudden, from being on the outside of society, bullied and made fun of, on the fringe in special education classrooms, they were being applauded and cheered. They glowed and stood taller, or looked up with a new hope in their eyes. The range of disability labels include Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Asperger’s Autism, head injuries and Learning Disabilities due to various causes. Here, on stage, at a microphone, the labels drop away.
Ezzell Floraniña - Artistic Director
B.S. Teacher of the Deaf and recently got her M. Ed. in Theater and Social Justice. Began improv training in Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed in 1984 and has studied several times in intensive trainings with Boal and his son, Julian. Performing as a Stiltwalker/dancer and clown across Canada for more than 35 years, performing in local and national festivals. Traveled with Mime artist and magician to the Dominican Republic to raise funds to build a school for the deaf.
Moved to Massachusetts in 1994 and started working with the individuals who later became The Rainbow Players, in 1996. Holding once a month cabarets showed clearly how talented these individuals were and that there was a need to perform for audiences. She began teaching theater to them in 1999, performing the first original production in April, 2000.
The troupe was then invited to perform in the Maytime International Theater Festival in Dundalk, Ireland in 2004 and returning in 2005. The troupe made international connections with Encore Productions in Dundalk and with The Blue Teapot in Galway, traveling across country to do an exchange in 2005. An invitation to become international partners and perform at the 2012 London Summer Olympics through the regional Olympiads allowed the troupe to make another international theater connection with The Lawnmowers in Gateshead Upon Tyne, UK.
In 2016, Ezzell was able to return to the UK through a travel grant, provided by Network of Ensemble Theaters, reconnect with all three theater troupes- two in Ireland and the one in the UK. She made a further very important professional connection with Hijinx Theatre, attending their Hijinx Unity Festival. The international festival featured professional performing arts companies from all over the EU and as far as Australia. The reality of inclusive performing arts companies inspired another trip in 2018 to visit the programs of Arts Access Aotearoa (New Zealand), and see more examples of fully integrated arts programming and companies with mixed troupes of people labeled and non-labeled alike. Their term: “people with a lived experience of disability” is one of the respectful examples of a label that is not a label.
In 2017, graduating from Lesley University, she wrote a play: The Hero’s Journey: Shifting the Mindset, about lives lived and lost in two different state institutions for the “feeble-minded”. This play, informed by the actors who have a “lived experience of being labeled”, has performed a staged reading - immersive, site specific - in front of the abandoned Administration building at Belchertown State School. It is in our sights to develop the script to bring it to a full production with all of the production values. It is a play that invites the audience to become involved and to look deeply at our own mindset of what it means to be labeled as having a dis-ability.