Empowerment Through the Arts
Empowerment Through the Arts 

The Rainbow Players- 2000-2020  and onwards!

20th Year Anniversary Celebration Canceled Due to COVID 19..

Did you know?….The individuals that became involved in The Rainbow Players were mostly in high school in 1997. They continue to be involved today as young people from 22-64. Most of the troupe is made up of its original members, over the years presenting in conferences in Omaha, NB and Chicago, IL for the International conference of Social Justice Theater, Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed. They have continued to present their unique self-advocacy theater in conferences and workshops and were featured at Improv Boston’s First Improv Festival in 2009. Invitations continue to come in locally to present and train younger teens and adults with developmental disabilities in this style of social justice theater. The latest grant project, “Back Off Bully You”, received funding from the local Arts Council, a show about alternatives for targets and bystanders of bullying incidents. The project will produce a show and a workshop series with local youth, involving scenes drawn from the players lives that incorporate spoken word, poetry, songs and dance.

The playing out of past grievances through these forms has led to a much greater sense of independence and empowerment allowing individuals to explore dreams. For one man, this means writing a hit song- already his song has been recorded and accompanied by master guitarist, John Sheldon, who played in his youth with Van Morrison and wrote songs for James Taylor. Another impersonates Elvis- and does this regularly- seeking and landing his own gigs! Another loves taking photographs and has been featured by the local community TV station. Others dream to sing, or dance, get married, swim with dolphins… and more! To be able to travel and accept this invitation, with more than 12 years of theater and leadership in the community of people labeled as developmentally disabled, is a profound opportunity that is truly “once in a lifetime”. Please consider supporting this “once in a lifetime” event for a group of people who now really dare to dream!


Here is how it went: Theater training with Ezzell as teacher/director, began with classes in the fall of 1999, and continued with the initial performance: “April Follies” in April, 2000. Each year after this, the newly founded theater troupe, The Rainbow Players, improvised and wrote a new show with the participation of local community members in a fully inclusive theatrical production. The material originated from the members as they engaged in a process of improvisation and a style of theater called: “Theater of the Oppressed” by Augusto Boal. They learned many improv styles and developed themes, first dealing with the painful stories of being bullied and marginalized, called “retards”. They eventually arrived at a sense of pride – of themselves and of the message they sent out – and decided to begin doing shows that involved story theater, fairy tale characters, and icons of the current day’s media. In a show, you might find The Big Bad Wolf or Little Red Riding Hood being interviewed by an impersonator of Oprah (called “Okrah”) or Jerry “Swinger” (Springer) or Dr. “Pill” (Phil) as well as the entire cast of fairy land meeting in the woods, outside of their own stories. There might be an appearance by Elvis, himself!

Elvis impersonator, Lee Williams, drew from a beginning of recounting old and painful stories, being bullied for an entire year in a middle school lunchroom where he was told, “slave, take my tray” and doing it- for boys that he hoped would be his “friends”. Through theater, he saw that his love was to bring forth the rock idols of his youth by playing them on stage. He was no longer the man who had lived here all his life that no one noticed. Instead, he was performing one of the greatest idols of all time!

By transforming the stories and seeing other potential outcomes, the group moved into being spokespeople for their community, the people labeled as developmentally disabled. Through the years, they have offered workshops on Anti-Bullying theater to students of elementary age through high school age, as well as to self-advocacy groups in the region. The scenes are always generated with the groups and when played, solutions are imagined and tried in the scenes. This style of theater empowers the individual student, whether the “bully” or the “target”, to imagine a new way to act when a real situation occurs.

The Players Go International- Spring 2004/2005: The group was invited to participate in the Dundalk International Maytime Festival in Dundalk, Ireland for two years in a row. The initial trip was made possible, in large part, by a generous donation of $5,000, by the actor, Paul Newman. In an effort to give back, the first performance was held in Barretstown, Ireland, at one of Paul Newman’s camps for terminally ill children – part of the “Hole in the Wall Gang Camps”. At this camp, the troupe performed for families who had recently lost a child to illness and were meeting at the camp to process grieving for a child recently lost. This was one of the most profound experiences for the troupe- to be present with this grief and to find ways to make the audience laugh. They did exactly this and received a standing ovation from the 200 or so family members present. Invited to return, another gift of $5,000 was donated by a group of women artists from Western Massachusetts. The Rainbow Players were able to participate in theater exchanges both years with troupes of people similarly labeled, “developmentally disabled”; a Senior citizen theater group, and to fit in a trip to the Aran Islands outside of Galway.

The group continue to perform in local and state events, Legislative Breakfasts, school and departmental trainings for professionals and teachers in the field of Developmental Disabilities and the performing with local improv theater troupes. Practicing an improvisation form developed in Brazil by the director, Augusto Boal, in the late 1970’s entitled, “Theater of the Oppresssed”, the theater group flourished and became very skilled at their craft. Including theater games similar to “Whose Line is It Anyway?”- they added comedy. This group has an incredible sense of humor and is always ready to make a joke of some slight as seen in their lives at present or from the past.


Grocery Store Impatient Customer Video Clip



A Bite of Creative History: The Rainbow Players were an international partner with Imagineer Production’s Godiva Awakes” a 2012 London Olympics Olympiad project involving 11 youth groups from the U.K., about 220 in all, participating in the Opening Ceremonies that begin in Coventry and continue onto the field in London.  We also presented at an International Theater Festival in Dundal, Ireland- 2004; 2005.

Fall 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 a 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 seemed to drop away.

Ezzell Floraniña, the director of the inclusion project, Open Arms, saw that there was a much greater potential in the display of talent at these cabarets- more than ‘community inclusion’ and acceptance. She saw a possibility of a re-invention of self, a self-empowerment through performing stories that had, up until now, been painful memories. She offered theater classes for those interested and taught them styles of improvisation, drawn from techniques of social justice theater and from drama therapy. She opened a door for them to shine. Almost all of the original 12 students make up the theater troupe, now more than 12 years later, having performed together and grown through the years and productions.


The Rainbow Players are changing the mindset of “disability” to “giftedness.” Each human, regardless of the perceived “ability”- is able to communicate , which, in fact, IS the GIFT. Communication. Labeled all their lives: Asperger’s Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation, Down Syndrome, they teach through courageous and outrageous theater – shifting the paradigm from “less than” to Gifted, presenting novel ways to deal with discrimination, bullying and a life that has been devalued.

Drawing authentically from life experience and ten years of performing stories of discrimination and empowerment – we do so with a deep sense of humor. Triumph with Laughs!

Check us out at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Rainbow-Players/284576487518?ref=ts

The Rainbow Players Timeline: 2000 and Beyond! (All Original Improvised Scripts)

Directed by C. Ezzell Floraniña.

Chris Wood Speaks!
MP4 video/audio file [17.5 KB]

Performances and Conferences:

The Rainbow Players Theater Troupe: Original Productions

Directed by Ezzell Floraniña.


2017:  A Climate Change Musical: An Obstacle Course for the Whole Family- For all Ages and All Abilities!  An Immersive Theater Experience with EggTooth Productions, Amherst Common.


2014: “Dream a Big Dream” – Garlic n’ Arts Festival, Orange, MA; “A Tale of Two Trees: A Climate Change Musical”- Double Take Fringe Festival, Eggtooth Productions (formerly Old Deerfield Prod.), Greenfield, MA; Select Solos: UMass Film Special Closing Event for Abilities Film series; Human Rights Day- Amnesty International, Amherst, MA

2012: Performed as International Partners in Imagineer Production’s “Godiva Awakes” for the 2012 London Olympics’ Cultural Olympiad.

2011: ALL Aboard The Arc! “Dream a Big Dream”- The Hanover Theater, Worcester, MA

2010: IMPROV-A-LOOZA: Ten Year Anniversary Kick-off: Improv workshop exchange and performances with Improv Boston & the Ha Ha’s, April, Northampton, MA

Dream A BIG Dream: October, at The Bing Arts Center, Springfield, MA

The First Annual Autumn Dream Ball: October, Wesley United Methodist Church, Hadley, MA

2009: From Boal to The Big Bad Wolf or The ODD- ADHD Rag: September, Boston Improv Festival, Boston, MA

2008: From Boal to The Big Bad Wolf or The ODD- ADHD Rag: June, Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed (PTO) International Conference with Augusto Boal, Omaha, NE

2007: New with Added characters: A Forest of Fairy Tales- June, Bangs Community Center, Amherst, MA

2006: A Forest of Fairy Tales- May, Bangs Community Center, Amherst, MA

2005: The Fairy Tale Forest Goes to Ireland AGAIN… May, The Dundalk International Maytime Festival! Theater Exchanges with: Encore Productions, Dundalk; & The Blue Teapot, Galway.

2004: A Tale of Two Trees undalk, Ireland for The Dundalk International Maytime Festival; performed at Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, Ireland. Funding: Paul Newman, $5,000.00 donation for travel.

2003: A Tale of Two Trees- from “The Great Kapok Tree- by Lynne Cherry- April, Amherst High School, Amherst, MA

2002: Late Lost and Laughable- The Greatest Show on Earth- A Comedy- May, Crocker Farm Elementary School, Amherst, MA

2001: Reach For The Stars- May, Amherst Middle School, Amherst, MA

2000: April Follies- 1st Cabaret Style performance- April, St. Brigid’s Parish Hall, Amherst, MA



Presenters: Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed (PTO) International Conference, Chicago, IL


Presenters: Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed (PTO) International Conference with Augusto Boal, Omaha, NE

Presenters: Dept. of Mental Retardation (DMR) 24th Annual Human Rights Conference, Worcester, MA

After School Program- LSSE, teaching through theater, conflict resolution techniques on issues of bullying and discrimination. (4 weeks)


  • Performance of original duets: Best Buddies Celebration and Benefit: City Stage, Springfield, MA
  • Performance: Families United for Change- Holyoke, MA- Awards Luncheon
  • Best Buddies Celebration- performance at Mt. Holyoke College, S. Hadley, MA
  • HEC – Hampshire Educational Collaborative Staff Orientation- Northampton, MA
  • NIRI- Keynote performance: National Institute for Recreation Inclusion Conference in Groton, CT
  • Groton/Dunstable Middle School Workshop and all school performance on issues of bullying and discrimination- inclusive program with drama class and life skills classes
  • Groton/Dunstable High School Event: 50 students: Workshop with National Honor Society Students, Drama Club students and students from the Life Skills class- inclusive – day long workshops on issues facing students such as: bullying, discrimination, racism, job inequality, etc.
  • Best Buddies Celebration – performance at Mt. Holyoke College, S. Hadley, MA
  • DMR Staff Conference on Support of Self Advocacy- Keynote Performance and workshops with staff – Worcester, MA (Two conferences)
  • DMR and Massachusetts Legislative Breakfast- Chicopee, MA

The Rainbow Players:

The troupe, The Rainbow Players, together now for more than 15 years of productions of original material, are growing. Involved in giving workshops for after school programs on discrimination and bullying, for direct care staff of the regional DMR, in 2006-2009, breaking down barriers and the accepted ideas held about them has become second nature.

The leadership apparent in this group of actors serve to empower others through the very way heads are held high as Self-Advocates. The membership continues to grow, involving new aspiring actors from as near as Belchertown and Greenfield and as far away as Westhampton, Easthampton and Holyoke.

The group has a consistent membership of between 10 and 12 between the ages of 16-58, an even mix of male and female. Amazing transformations become apparent as individuals who had previously been practically non-verbal, have something to SAY! Let’s Listen…

Want to have some acting classes? Having a party? Want to start your own group? We travel and work with schools to help stop bullying through theater and the methods of Augusto Boal. Contact Ezzell: ezzellfloranina@gmail.com

| 01 14th, 2010 | No Comments »


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