In ‘Life’s A Beach,’ actors with disabilities turn misadventures into lessons

06/30/2014 12:27 PM

06/30/2014 12:29 PM

The Funky Fred family has never been to the beach before. They didn't bring towels, snacks, water, sun block, and worse, they tossed their garbage into the ocean.

Fellow beachgoers offer helpful advice and Poseidon, the “protector of the sea,” teaches the family a thing or two about throwing their trash where it doesn't belong.

The play, called Life’s A Beach, also teaches the actors — about three dozen adults, all with intellectual disabilities — how to prepare for a day at the beach in real life, especially in time for hurricane season. The performance, held recently at A.D. Barnes Park in southwest Miami-Dade, is part of a county program to teach disabled people life skills through the arts.

For the past two months, Gladys Ramirez of the Miami Theater Center and choreographer Ana Miranda, a dance/movement therapist and resident artist for the park’s Leisure Access Center, have been incorporating the students' own experiences and ideas about sea life and beach safety to create the show.

In one of the opening scenes, the Freds sit on their clothes because they didn't bring any towels. Two strangers are quick to offer advice, saying, “Remember to bring beach towels!” The Freds shrug and say in unison, “Oh, well,” followed by a group chant, “Life's a beach!”

The Freds learn they need to wear sunblock, pack water and food and that littering on the beach is not good. After the Freds toss their trash, Poseidon and fellow sea creatures rise up and throw the wrappers back at them, shouting “Stop that, beach bums!”

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In between each of the Freds' misadventures, the actors sing and dance. They formed a conga line, danced to merengue and later sang Bob Marley's Three Little Birds after Carla Fred, played by Nicole Silk, turned crispy from sunburn. “Don't worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing is gonna be all right,” the actors assured her.

Erik Barrow, 32, and Mirella Casaprima, 46, danced a “rain dance” to ward off an afternoon storm. “Lightning and thunder happen in hurricane season,” Barrow says.

“They were the ones who came up with all the ideas,” Ramirez said.

“A lot of them are not that verbal,” added Miranda. “But they're able to communicate through dance, which boosts their self-esteem and allows them to express themselves.”

The free show was sponsored by a 2014 In Park Series grant of $4,600 from the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs. The mission: “to create a theatrical production for a public audience while focusing on enhancing the well-being of individuals with intellectual disabilities.”

This is the third year of the program. The two other plays the group produced were Sorcerer's Apprentice and Peter and the Wolf.

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