“I have a dream that can open your eyes I believe that dream never dies. I dream of a world where all people can be free, Overweight people, and gay people, and people like me.”
Becci Ingram was born in London, England, on July 4th, 1974. A well-meaning doctor told her parents “Your daughter has Down Syndrome. She will probably never be able to develop physically or mentally. My advice is to put her in a home, and have another child as soon as possible”. It wasn’t until she was 6 months old that she ‘decided to live’, and at 2 1/2 years, Becci still only weighed 12 pounds. However, with the help of a very special homeopathic doctor who looked beyond the negative label of ‘disability’ and who saw Becci for herself, she began to grow and to find strength.
Every stage of her development was delayed, but she was gradually able to go to school, where she became the guinea pig for the ‘Mainstreaming Experiment’, or ‘Inclusion’ of children with special needs into regular schools in the Inner London Education Area.
When she was 10 years old, the family moved to the U.S.A. where Becci’s actor parents worked with a Shakespeare company in Lenox, Massachusetts. Becci fell in love with theatre and acting and Shakespeare and began writing her own plays based on the Shakespeare productions she was seeing all the time in rehearsal and performance. The language thrilled her, the poetry, the movement, the stories and characters – it all excited and stimulated her vocally and physically to express herself.
When the family moved to Syracuse, where her parents were teaching in the Drama department of Syracuse University, Becci started her own theatre company called ‘The Buckingham Players’, (she and her family lived on Buckingham Avenue). She put on her plays in the family sitting room and invited the neighbours to be in the casts. Becci wrote the plays, directed and acted in them – her editions of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘Hamlet’, ‘Grease’ as well as many original plays were all big friendly theatrical occasions!
A student at the Drama department, Stephanie Leimbacher, suggested starting a theatre group for young people from the community with special needs so they could work with university drama students. Becci was one of the original members of the group which is now known as ‘The All Star C.A.S.T.’ (Community Actors and Students’ Theatre). The weekly classes consisted of basic acting exercises which culminated in a production at the end of the semester, held in the Syracuse Stage ‘Sutton Pavilion’ theatre. The mission of the group is to provide a safe, non-judgmental space in which all the participants can reveal who they are while they explore their creativity.
The Group was an immediate success and has now, after 25 years, extended to 5 groups in N.Y.C. as well as to other groups around the country. An award winning documentary film was made in 2010 which received much national publicity and which has helped to educate the public in being able to see new possibilities for people with special needs, and to recognize the importance of creative work in education.
Becci had to battle against prejudice and bullying in many forms throughout her life; children and adults were often cruel to her, but she was able to overcome her fears and sadness by recognizing the ignorance of others and helping them to be more open-minded.
She wrote a poem called “People Like Me:”
“I dream of a world where all people can be free
Overweight people, and gay people, and people like me.
If you have people picking on you
Oh what can you do?
So what if you’re overweight or if you are gay,
Just turn away. Just turn away.
If they start to call you names
You will not play their silly games.
We are the people of a different kind
We learn to let those other people unwind.
It doesn’t matter if you’re white or black
Teach those people to change, or they need never come back.
But say that you will be their friend
And that this friendship won’t never end.”
Through pursuing her own creativity she found her strength, understanding and her amazing capacity for love, which she was able to express in her own voice through art.
Becci’s talents as a writer, (she wrote over 80 plays), as an actress, and as an extraordinary personality have helped to encourage thousands of people to see beyond the label of ‘Disability’, to appreciate the value of every individual, and to recognize each person’s need for a creative voice.
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