Exceptional Talent from Home
Last evening Southern Lens, a South Carolina Educational Television independent film series debuted “Laugh At Us” featuring The Merry Pranksters Theatrical Troupe for the Exceptionally Talented from my hometown of Rock Hill, SC. The film is partially narrated by four time Tony Award winner and Rock Hill native William Ivey Long whose sister, Laura Long is an actor in the troupe. Laura and William’s mother, Mary Long was an institution in her own right and taught drama for many years at Rock Hill High School. Their father, William was a drama professor at Winthrop University in Rock Hill.
The Merry Pranksters are a troupe of 19 special needs actors and performers with various individual challenges and disabilities ranging from autism and Downs Syndrome to the emotional and physical. Laugh At Us is a behind the scene glimpse of the challenges and struggles of this troupe as they work from script to stage in presenting an original full-length comedy.
I can’t tell you how inspiring it was for me to watch these actors laugh, cry and succeed on the stage with loving help from a wonderful and patient director and many, many volunteers without whom the production could not have happened.
The rehearsal portion of the play took place on the same stage I acted and performed on many times while in school. Watching the laughter and angst taking place on stage during rehearsals and backstage; the struggles with doubt and the euphoria of companionship reminded me of the magical setting the theater is, where once in a lifetime experiences unfold bonding friends together for lifetimes, no matter what the individual special needs may be.
Each of us is challenged in some area of our lives- at times it seems much more than these individuals who refused to let anything get in the way of their dreams. And what is the theater except a reflection of life, an unfolding of stories and an agreement between actor and audience (which is which?) to suspend outside belief so we can reach further and be propelled farther than we ever could individually.
It’s a wonderful thing to see local talent make good. The Rock Hill Parks and Recreation Department should feel honored to have a four time Tony Award winner and clothing designer for The Rolling Stones compare their efforts and direction to the best anywhere. My dear friend Karen Collins, an assistant director of several feature films directed and produced the filming of "Laugh At Us" with assistance from another friend, Diane Tennyson. Both are from Rock Hill.
“Laugh at Us,” it has been shown at film festivals, educational institutions and on public television stations across the US. In 2005, the film was nominated by The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for awards in three categories of the Midsouth Regional Emmy Awards - best cultural documentary, best directing in non-news, and best editing in non-news.
The stars of the film are 19 Merry Pranksters whose lives will never be quite the same again.