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A Barrier Breaks: An Actress With Down Syndrome Plays the Lead

Ms. Brewer is a veteran actress absolute best identified for her groundbreaking paintings on the tv sequence “American Horror Story.” Mr. Barbanell, who is going by way of Eddie, performed Billy in the 2005 film “The Ringer,” starring Johnny Knoxville. He and Ms. Brewer have carried out onstage for far in their lives.

But taking up this sort of huge and high-profile theater function is a fully new problem.

“The biggest hurdle is the amount of dialogue and stage direction that comes all at once,” mentioned Gail Williamson, Ms. Brewer’s agent, and a outstanding recommend for performers with disabilities. “When you’re doing a television show or a film, you have a scene and you can work on that one scene. Doing theater, you have to have it all down.”


From left: Ms. Brewer as the play’s name personality, with (in entrance seat) Vanessa Aspillaga as her caregiver and (in again seat) Debra Monk and Mark Blum as her siblings.

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

At the practice session house for the display, Ms. Brewer was once going over traces with fellow solid participants Debra Monk, Mark Blum and Vanessa Aspillaga. In the scene, Amy, dressed in purple noise-canceling headphones as she watches a film on her pill, is visited by way of her two siblings, performed by way of Ms. Monk and Mr. Blum. Ms. Aspillaga portrays a caretaker. Every couple of minutes, after a scene would get started, the display’s veteran director, Scott Ellis, would interrupt to supply notes and tweak the blocking off. Turn this fashion. Walk that means. React extra.

The stops and begins had been particularly essential for Ms. Brewer. The extra repetition, the more uncomplicated the memorization, and the extra the scenes can be ingrained into her muscle reminiscence.

“That was great, Jamie,” Mr. Ellis mentioned. “Back it up one more time,”

Another prevent, extra path after which repeat. Mr. Ellis saved providing phrases of encouragement to the solid, whilst Ms. Ferrentino sat within reach, taking notes on a notepad smaller than her hand. Occasionally, she would whisper to Mr. Ellis. Throughout the practice session, Ms. Brewer cracked jokes; within reach, Mr. Barbanell quietly noticed.

The play is in accordance with Amy Jacobs, Ms. Ferrentino’s aunt, who additionally had Down syndrome and is now deceased. When Ms. Ferrentino started writing the play, her procedure was once sophisticated by way of the limits of her aunt’s verbal abilities, which made developing discussion a problem. In 2015, she reached out to Ms. Williamson, whose whole shopper roster is made up of performers with disabilities. Ms. Williamson attached her with Ms. Brewer, who had simply grow to be the first individual with Down syndrome to stroll the runway at New York Fashion Week. The playwright and the actress met for espresso and take to each other in an instant.

Ms. Brewer informed Ms. Ferrentino that once she had performed characters with Down syndrome, she incessantly needed to cater to an target market’s expectancies, irrespective of her talents. Immediately, Ms. Ferrentino determined that the play can be as a lot about Ms. Brewer as about her aunt.

“That informed how I wrote the play,” she mentioned. She sought after to present Ms. Brewer room “as an actor, and a person, a chance to step outside that role and show the audience who she actually is.”

Ms. Brewer, an best kid, grew up in Orange County, California, prior to shifting close to Houston, the place she was once concerned with a neighborhood theater. She mentioned she began appearing round 8th grade, along with her circle of relatives’s fortify.

“Individuals with disabilities have different ways of coping with things,” Ms. Brewer mentioned. Her means, she defined, was once plunging into the arts, like her personality, who will have to maintain her father’s demise.


Ms. Brewer, middle, with Kathy Bates and Gabourey Sidibe in “American Horror Story: Coven.”

Michele Okay. Short/FX

After the play was once written, the process was once to search out Ms. Brewer’s understudy. Ms. Williamson attached Ms. Ferrentino with Mr. Barbanell, who was once residing in Coral Springs, Fla.

For their first assembly, Ms. Ferrentino informed him to not get ready the rest; she simply sought after to fulfill him. But Mr. Barbanell, accompanied by way of his mom, was once in a position with scenes from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Julius Caesar,” “Henry V” and “Romeo and Juliet.” At a diner, he driven his ice cream sundae apart and insisted on appearing Ms. Ferrentino his abilities.

Just like that, he gained her over.

“He performed the most beautiful, word-perfect Shakespeare,” Ms. Ferrentino mentioned. And as a substitute of discovering any other Amy, Ms. Ferrentino and Mr. Ellis determined that Mr. Barbanell will have to every so often be given his personal efficiency dates — and when he performed the lead, the play can be “Andy and the Orphans,” with some scenes rewritten for a male lead.

On the first day that the solid rehearsed in the exact efficiency house at the Laura Pels Theater on 46th Street, Mr. Barbanell, instructed by way of Ms. Ferrentino and Mr. Ellis, stood up and enthusiastically recited Romeo’s balcony speech from “Romeo and Juliet.” (“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?”)

Encouragement for this solid was once no longer briefly provide, Mr. Barbanell famous.

“Because I have Down syndrome, I’m down and I’m up,” Mr. Barbanell mentioned. “I’m like an elevator, and they brought me up,” he added, relating to Ms. Ferrentino and Mr. Ellis.

Ms. Ferrentino and Mr. Ellis have launched into a studying strategy of their very own. Neither had ever carried out the rest like this. And it became out to not be as daunting because it appeared.

“The questions that we had, so far, are, ‘What is it like having actors with Down syndrome in our professional rehearsal space?’” Ms. Ferrentino mentioned. “Well, we’ve answered at least that question. It’s not that different. So the next question is, what would it be like to have them in performance? Who knows what the answer to that is?”

Mr. Ellis added, “That will be the next thing.”

Being an recommend for the ones with disabilities is a job Ms. Brewer and Mr. Barbanell take very critically. They each wish to open doorways and alter attitudes. Mr. Barbanell informed a tale about operating as a bus boy at an assisted-living middle, the place he continuously heard epithets from his co-workers directed towards other folks with disabilities.

When he came upon he was once solid in “Amy and the Orphans,” Mr. Barbanell had a message for them on his means out the door: "Take a have a look at me now.”

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