Tour Dates

October 3rd - St. Catherines (Workshop/Market Square)
November 17th - Glasgow (Hamilton Townhouse)
November 21th - Liverpool (Sefton Palm House)

What is the Book of Judith?

The Book of Judith, created by Michael Rubenfeld and Sarah Garton Stanley, is a musical play about a self-annointed preacher man who is passionately driven to change the lives of others. After a chance meeting with a quadriplegic woman named Judith Snow, theatre artist Matthew Goldberg believes he has “seen the light”. With the help of his director, Shauna Coupland, and her best friend, disabled artist, Pippa McLaren, Matthew has managed to coral a fully integrated group of choristers with and without disability, to help him tell, for the first time, his inspirational, maniacal and deeply suspect tale of Judith Snow. The Book of Judith takes us from innocence to ignorance and through to the other side – a truer place of transformation.

The Book of Judith stars Michael Rubenfeld and features Sarah Garton Stanley, Judith Snow and a revolving cast comprised of local members of the community the work is performed in. It is directed by Sarah Garton Stanley.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Life is a five-star performance
Alex Bulmer, 43, who lost her sight to retinitis pigmentosa, plays the choirmaster in Judith, about disability rights advocate Judith Snow, who is quadriplegic. It runs through May 31.
Having cultivated her talent abroad, Alex Bulmer plants her creative seed here
May 26, 2009

Special to the Star

"It's my birthday today," says Alex Bulmer slyly, her legs curled up underneath her on a sofa, catlike.

"As of today, I have been living with the idea of blindness longer than I've had sight. Finally ... finally, it's Day 1."

Bulmer, 43, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare degenerative disease, when she was 21. "In my early 30s, it took hold like a vicious little bulldog. That's when I started to write Smudge."

In 2000, Smudge, a series of raw and very funny poems about Bulmer's descent into blindness, became a play. Directed by Alisa Palmer, it was nominated for numerous awards, including the Chalmers Canadian Play award.

That's how I met Bulmer. I played the character Freddie, which was based on her. The project was "so, so rare an experience," she says – helping her weather the sinking awareness of what she had lost.

After the success of Smudge, Bulmer began to work in radio as a freelance writer and producer. In 2003, a surreal job interview for a staff position at a local radio station convinced her she had to leave Canada; that there was a functional and attitudinal barrier for disabled people in this country.

"They were looking to diversify their employment pool – reaching out to the...what do you call it? Marginalized?" She laughs at the label. "Anyway, they didn't have disability on their marginal list. I applied anyway."

In the interview, Bulmer was told they wanted to offer her the job but they were concerned her talking computer would be too disruptive in the office. Bulmer told them she works with headphones. So they found another problem – installing special software for the blind on the office computers could be expensive.

"I thought, `How am I ever going to actually get my foot in the door here?'"

So she started looking to other countries. In the U.K., she discovered the Access to Work program.

"Essentially, if you are an employed disabled person, this program funds you to purchase equipment or person time. So, basically, I get a seeing-eye person. They work with me – and unlike a Seeing Eye dog, I don't have to take them out to poo! It's great!"

More pertinently, "No one could turn me down for work because I'm disabled."

Bulmer works part-time as literary manager at London's Graeae Theatre, the U.K.'s leading disabled-led theatre company.

"For my job, I get loads of new scripts that I have to read and I run workshops to develop new plays. My computer reads the script with me. But in a workshop, you have to be able to say, `flip to page 30,' `refer back to page 12,' `make a note,' `cut this line' and people act out a scene and there is a lot is non-verbal action. My seeing-eye person is trained in audio description."

Bulmer also teaches voice and inclusive theatre practice. For example, how to adapt a voice exercise for a student with cerebral palsy. Access to Work pays her travel costs to get to jobs all over the country.

She just finished co-writing a six-part comedy series commissioned by Britain's Channel 4, called Cast-Offs, starring six disabled actors.

"It's going to offend some people," Bulmer says, chortling, "and I can't wait! That's the other thing. Over there, as a disabled person, you don't have to be so worthy!"

Bulmer is fulfilled as a working artist in London. But she has wrestled with a "hideous void" since leaving Toronto.

"When I first arrived in London, I had enough sight to still detect where bus stops and things were. After about a year, I realized that was going. I then became what I call `conceptually blind.' Here, in Toronto, I could visualize Wieners Hardware on Bloor St., what the CN Tower looks like. There, I had no visual memories or references, which is what it must feel like to be born blind. I had no pictures of people's faces to imagine when I heard them talk."

Things like getting on a bus were dangerous.

"I became very frightened of leaving the house. But I knew if I could just get used to it, if I could live without the visual memory, I could completely come to terms with who I am now, in the present."

So, why has she come back to Toronto? "My God, talk about a strange universal answer to what I was looking for."

Bulmer's friend, theatre director Sarah Stanley, asked her to act in a project inspired by its author, disability rights advocate Judith Snow, who is quadriplegic.

"'That's it!'" I thought. `That's my reintroduction.'

"The show, The Book of Judith, is inclusive. It's a show with an integrated choir of disabled and nondisabled people. I play the choirmaster." It is comic, dark but sincere, and she couldn't say no.

Bulmer says projects like this one should pave the way for artistic inclusiveness. "Canada needs to shift from looking at disability in a medical model to looking at it in more of a social model." She cites the example of a blind person walking down a main street and continually bumping into a sandwich board.

"The medical model insists it's her problem because she's blind. The social model says it's the sandwich board that's the problem. Get rid of the sandwich board and there's no issue.

"In London, I'm still blind but am completely able to function. There are ways of removing barriers so a person who is disabled can be included in all aspects of society."

Bulmer feels she succeeded in London because the British get it.

"I think there is something ingrained in the fabric of that society that transcends the economic argument and they do feel strongly about looking after their own....I felt that when I got there.

"I could tell people were genuinely, not patronizingly, interested in ensuring that I and other people with disabilities were fulfilling our potential."

Bulmer leans back, shadows playing across her face.

"If I want to come back and live here, I have this stuff under my arm – look at what I've done; you know, here's my ammunition – under my big white stick."

The Book of Judith runs until Sunday, May 31. Tickets available at the Theatre Centre, 416-534-9261, Diane Flacks is a writer/actor/author living in Toronto.

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