Nov. 2, 2017 • by Sue Postema Scheeres
To Adam Russell Johnson, there is humor to be found in a life spent defying the odds.
Born prematurely weighing a mere 1 pound 10 ounces, Johnson faced numerous challenges, including two collapsed lungs and spastic diplegia cerebral palsy, a neurological condition that permanently affects muscle control and coordination.
He spent three months in neonatal intensive care at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia while a team of specialists saved him.
On Nov. 15, Johnson will share how he has navigated through life with a disability at a workshop titled “Accessibility? Nay! Accsuckability: An Applied Theatre Experience.” Johnson will perform and lead participants through experiences related to the themes he presents. This event will be held from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Wesley Chapel, 1290 Folsom St. and is open to the public.
This performance is sponsored by the Boulder County Arts Alliance and CU Boulder’s Office for Outreach and Engagement, as part of a series that is bringing CU Boulder artists and scholars to the community for workshops focused on equity, diversity and inclusion. Suggested donation is $5 and registration is requested.
“I'd like to have fun with the audience and participants and just start a conversation around disability,” said Johnson, 26, noting that he will be speaking for himself, not for all those with disabilities. “We are, as a society, afraid to talk about disability and we shouldn't be, it is a part of life. It does not define life.”
It wasn’t easy growing up with cerebral palsy. Johnson had multiple surgeries, including one three months before he graduated from high school, where both legs were broken and realigned so that he could walk better.
“Friendships were hard. Romance was impossible,” explained Johnson, who graduated last year from CU Boulder with a bachelor’s degree in theatre and dance. “I fell in love with singing and acting. Choirs. Shows. Whatever I could do.”
Johnson is grateful for his champions, including Oliver Gerland, director of CU Boulder’s Honors Residential Academic Program and Beth Osnes, associate professor of theatre, with whom he worked on disability studies and theatre for social change. CU Boulder students and faculty as well the arts alliance and outreach office staff encouraged Johnson to create a performance that authentically tells his story.
“It's a blessing to have such a supportive team all around me and to have the freedom to say what I feel I need to say,” Johnson said.
Charlotte LaSasso, executive director of the arts alliance, said this workshop and one last spring that focused on racial identity by Vanessa Roberts, a CU Boulder PhD candidate in sociology, offer a way to discuss equity and inclusion as a community and provide a place for artists to develop professionally, both of which are central to the nonprofit’s mission.
“The humor that both Roberts and Johnson bring to their work helps to make the topics more accessible and, we believe, will mitigate hesitancy that some audience members may feel about broaching difficult territory,” she said.
LaSasso said that CU Boulder’s Office for Outreach and Engagement has provided invaluable support for the series by suggesting campus artists and bringing academic rigor and validation to the program.
“I’m very excited about forging new relationships between the university and the rest of the community,” she said. “It just makes sense that, in a college town, the university should be integral in providing learning opportunities to those who are seeking them.”
Lisa H. Schwartz, the office’s community outreach program manager, has worked closely with the arts alliance to develop this series, which links directly to the office’s engaged arts and humanities initiative. It also connects with the campus’ participation in Imagining America, a national consortium of more than 100 higher education and community cultural organizations focused on outreach and publicly engaged scholarship using the tools of the arts, humanities and design.
“We are thrilled to be partnering with the arts alliance, because we are bringing together campus and community expertise and aims,” Schwartz said. “The goal of this series is to offer a space to foster crucial community conversation around diversity, equity and inclusion.”