The pandemic has brought an immense struggle to people and specially to social organizations. More than ever, we need to help people with mental health disabilities and that is exactly what Diane Dupuy has been doing for the last 46 years.
Diane Dupuy is the Founder and President of the international acclaimed black light theatre company, Famous People Players. Her life was dedicated to bringing integration to every part of the world. This week, Diane Dupuy told us all about her story and her company on Here’s The Thing, available on Camões Tv.
Manuel DaCosta: Famous People Players is the only black lighted theatre in Canada and the performers are adults with development disabilities. How did it all start?
Diane Dupuy: Prior to 1974, the year that Famous People Players was founded, I volunteered in an institution for people with mental disabilities. These people were locked away in institutions and were not allowed to be integrated into society. It mortified me to see the living conditions, it was depressing. Me, being a creative person, I wanted to do something and after a vast research and contact with a specialist, I realized that if we integrated them in the community, they would ‘normalize themselves’ as they would see how to behave. When they are only involved with people that have the same problems, they will imitate that behavior.
I believed in normalization and that it was possible through the black light technic. People are dressed in black, from head to toe, they are not seen on stage, but they manipulate life sized colorful puppets, all accompanied by music. At the end of the show, when they come out for their bow, everyone is clapping, and they are surprised with their capabilities.
I was approved for a three-month grant that Pierre Trudeau molded as ‘job creation’. I couldn’t fail, I had failed all my life in school. I had ADHD, at that time no one knew what that was, and it was difficult for me to stay still and concentrate.
MDC: How was the first performance?
DD: Long story short, six months after, we did a show with a life-sized puppet of Liberace – one of the world great entertainers. He was coming to Toronto to perform and he was invited to our first show. I’ll never forget, I was so nervous… He got up, went to the podium and said “This performance that I witnessed today was so beautiful, anybody that can perform and make you laugh and move you to tears in the space of seconds is truly remarkable. And I want to take them to Las Vegas to open for me… It’s not because of who you are, it’s because you move people this way and you have the right to be on stage as anybody else.”
We went to Las Vegas for two months and had stunning reviews. When we came back, I couldn’t recognize them … we were growing as individuals and gaining confidence.
After that, Maureen McTeer had this idea that Famous People Players should travel the world to perform on countries where there was no integration. We even went to Broadway.
MDC: Why did you came up with the idea of the Diner and Dream Theatre?
DD: As the performers were getting older, there was no place for them to go. We decided they could graduate to the restaurant where they could enhance their life skills. Paul Newman saw us on Broadway, and he gave us the money to do it. It run for 15 years in downtown Toronto until we had to leave due to a condo development. We ended up here on 343 Evans Avenue, in Etobicoke.
MDC: Tells us more about your Educational Program.
DD: Masters of Imaginations and Entrepreneurship. We want you to create something that will make this world a better place. It worked like MasterChef, we had three juris from different sectors. Their biggest challenge was with finances because they didn’t know how to save their money.
MDC: What will happen with the restructuration of the company?
DD: We will be Canada’s Goodwill Ambassadors for the world. If a charity has been hit hard with Covid-19, Famous People Players will do a benefit performance, they just need to pay to get us there. To me, that’s my life calling, when I can see that trough our performances, we can improve these organizations and these people’s lives. We will be opening the Diner and Theatre, but it will be a social distancing event. It’s a private event, everyone will have the red-carpet experience. The Dining area will have the puppets in exhibition and the history of the company. We are the pioneers, we brought integration for people with disabilities.
Besides, we will also continue with our Education Program.
MDC: How are the players being affected with the company closed?
DD: It’s really hard for them. A lot of the families have difficulties dealing with them, these are people that can’t fully understand what is happening in the world and loneliness and isolation can regress their progress.
Unfortunately, we are not ready to open. I need to find money to do that. It’s a different world and we need to find our way through all that.
MDC: What is the process to get into Famous People Players?
DD: All our students have to be at least 18 years old. Send us a written description of your son and we will set up a meeting and see if we can help. We do expect the parents to be involved and be a part of fundraising and volunteer.
MDC: The government have been giving money to certain companies, but your organization is being ignored.
DD: We make the difference and we don’t have support. I cannot get the attention other companies are getting. This is not only about art, it’s about people’s development. The government need us.
MDC: What are the needs of Famous People Players?
DD: I would like for us to have our own building. I would like it to be the center for Imagination and Entrepreneurship, where people could come and learn to develop a project that would make this world a better place. The world is changing and now we have to rebuild and do it differently, in a more meaningful way.
MDC: Dreams for the future…
DD: You have to find ways to make things work. We will be here because we love our life, our art, our people. I would love for all of you to meet them. Thank you.
MDC: Thank you Diane for being with us.
Transcrição por Inês Carpinteiro