Birds Make Me Think About Freedom by L’Arche Toronto Sol Express is a memorable, eye-opening story at the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival. Playing at the Al Green Theatre, it reveals the dark past of the institutionalization of people with intellectual disabilities in Ontario. The play is performed with grace and beauty, and it tells us much about resilience.
I had no idea that people with developmental disabilities were sent to institutions and that they didn’t receive loving care and respect. We heard stories of people providing farm labour, doing laundry, being punished by lying face down on the ground, and trying to escape. A mother’s poem refers to the many different hands that touch her child, implying that her child is missing the bond of having a single person to be affectionate with.
Freedom is addressed throughout the play mostly by evoking the freedom of birds, but I most enjoyed the radio show that has an interview about what it means to be free. The black and white scene in the recording studio added lightness to the different definitions of freedom whether it’s freedom to get from A to Z by biking or the lack of freedom for animals at the Toronto Zoo.
One poignant moment in Birds Make Me Think About Freedom is when a mother and her daughter–a person with disabilities–are separated by a black cloth that acts as a wall. Their dance is full of despair. Other children join the girl, and we imagine that many kids are pacing inside that cold building with small windows that we saw projected in the background at one point.
The end of the production is visually powerful. We see a reunion of mother and daughter. This time, the cloths are multiple and colourful, bringing life and joy to both people. The weaving of several cloths by several actors evokes a feeling of community and support, and the final flight of the bird brings us out of the past and into the future.
- Birds Make Me Think About Freedom plays at the Al Green Theatre. (750 Spadina Ave.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (707 Dundas St. W.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- To increase accessibility, there are ASL, relaxed and open audio performances available.
- This venue is barrier-free. Note that only certain building entrances are wheelchair-accessible. Accessible seating is in front of the front row.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Friday July 6th, 6:30 pm
- Saturday July 7th, 7:00 pm
- Sunday July 8th, 3:15 pm
- Tuesday July 10th, 1:00 pm
- Friday July 13th, 6:15 pm
- Saturday July 14th, 5:45 pm
- Sunday July 15th, 3:30 pm
Photo of Melissa Marshall with Nicholas Herd and Andreas Prinz in background by Matt Rawlins