Neurodivergent and disabled artists opening theatre-goers’ eyes

MELFORT/HUMBOLDT - Listen to Dis' is Saskatchewan's first and only disability-led, disability arts organization and they will be performing in Humboldt on April 29 and in Melfort on May 1.

Listen to Dis’ Community Arts Organization and the Saskatchewan Districts for Sport, Culture, and Recreation have come together to present Bits & Pieces of Dis’ & Dat’ in Melfort and Humboldt. The performance is said to be a dazzling montage of music and monologue which is performed by LTD’ professional music ensemble The Dripping Honeys.

Traci Foster, LTD founder and executive artistic director, said, “It will make you laugh, cry, and think about what it is like to be disabled in today’s world.”

The band currently consists of neurodivergent and disabled artists.

“We are proud to show through our programming such as this band that neurodiversity and disability doesn't prevent people from being professional artists.”

The performance will be in Humboldt on April 29 at the Uniplex at 7 p.m. and in Melfort on May 1 at the Kerry Vickar Centre at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. These events are accessible, and admission is free.

LTD’ is about creating opportunities for disabled people to participate in art that is of interest to them.

“We are providing environments that are barrier-free and truly accessible and as a result we have many artists performing as emerging professionals in Saskatchewan,” Foster said. We also want to inform and educate the Saskatchewan public about disability culture, what it is, what we can do to accommodate needs not visible to most, and how to become true allies.

Bits & Pieces of Dis’ & Dat’ was first performed in 2022 by SaskCulture to cultural leaders from across the province. The ensemble features Ammanda Zelinski on vocals, Jason Yuen on piano, Emil Schmuck on harmonica, Finn Burke on bass, Ed Peck on drums, and Shaylee Rosnes monolinguist. The ensemble’s passion, and unique arrangements, style, and sound have gained in popularity across the province.

The Dripping Honeys are a music ensemble that includes an actor/monologuist who is always present on stage. Foster said, “The music ensemble has been rehearsing five hours per week – every Sunday – since 2022. When we have a new show — for example our annual Not Just Christmas Concert – or a tour, we typically amp up the rehearsal time to 10 to 20 hours per week. They are really dedicated group and we want to play well and represent the potential that disabled people have that is often not nurtured in a way that highlights the talent.”

During the performance, Foster explains, a monologuist has a open, honest, and vulnerable conversation about what it is like to live with visible or non-visible disability in the world today.

“We speak about art and the joy it brings. Often, we will hear how difficult many things are in arts and culture for people with a disability and discuss how to change that. We also hear a lot about what it feels like to see yourself represented on stage for the first time as a person with mental health disorder or a physical disability. People often talk about how much they were entertained while being educated at the same time. They will say things like,” I have to go home and rethink everything I thought I knew about disability.”

Ammanda Zelinski is an actor/singer/dancer with her BA in media art and performance from the University of Regina.

Jason Yuen is a jazz keyboardist/vocalist and music arranger from Regina. In addition, he is also a triple-threat performer, most notably as Squidward Q. Tentacles in Sterling Productions’ The SpongeBob Musical. He holds two degrees in actuarial science and education.

Emil Schmuck is a harmonicist and vocalist and has been playing harmonica since 1993. He has attended harmonica jam camps in southern California where he met his first mentor Jon Gindick in person. Schmuck then began to share this sound and his passion for the harmonica with others which has led him along the road to being here today.

Finn Burke Eggertson is an actor/musician in the Listen to ‘Dis company. He is a trained ensemble singer, a sometime frontman for bands, and a poet, who has now written his own original song that was featured in The Dripping Honeys’ “Not Just Christmas” concert in 2023 called A Cold Saskatchewan Winter.

Shaylee Rosnes is both an actor and, as of January 2023, an administrative associate and programmer with Listen to Dis’ Community Arts Organization. Most recently she has appeared in the Dripping Honeys’ productions Bits & Pieces of Dis’ & Dat and “Not Just Christmas” In October of 2022, she graduated from the University of Regina with a bachelor's degree in social work and hopes to use that training in future theatre work.

Foster said anyone who enjoys great music, good stories, and a bit of comedy should attend.

“We must not forget that LTD’s artists are disabled. It has been kind of tough to get people to see our value and to have people support us as a professional company over the past decade. This is a milestone for us. A dream come true, to see every one of us and everyone involved in helping to shift the disability culture.”

, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, SASKTODAY.ca