Night Sky Illuminates Struggles With Aphasia When Ellayne Ganzfried, executive director of the National Aphasia Association (NAA), went to the May 2008 wedding of her husband’s client, she could have spent the hours doing what most peripheral wedding guests do—nibbling food, drinking wine, maybe doing the Chicken Dance, and then going home. But Ganzfried is a ... Features
Free
Features  |   July 01, 2009
Night Sky Illuminates Struggles With Aphasia
Author Notes
Article Information
Language Disorders / Aphasia / Features
Features   |   July 01, 2009
Night Sky Illuminates Struggles With Aphasia
The ASHA Leader, July 2009, Vol. 14, 24-25. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR5.14092009.24
The ASHA Leader, July 2009, Vol. 14, 24-25. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR5.14092009.24
When Ellayne Ganzfried, executive director of the National Aphasia Association (NAA), went to the May 2008 wedding of her husband’s client, she could have spent the hours doing what most peripheral wedding guests do—nibbling food, drinking wine, maybe doing the Chicken Dance, and then going home. But Ganzfried is a natural networker and when she found herself sitting at a cocktail table with a stranger, she did what came naturally—she asked him what he did for a living.
“I’ve always believed in the power of networking,” Ganzfried said. “Great things have come my way because of it.”
And this time was no exception. The stranger turned out to be Stan Raiff, a Broadway producer looking for new projects. Coincidentally Ganzfried had an idea for him. What about producing Susan Yankowitz’s “Night Sky,” a play about an astronomer with aphasia? The play, which was inspired by the late theater legend Joseph Chaikin’s own battle with aphasia, had last been on stage in 1991. Raiff, who studied speech-language pathology as an undergraduate student, was intrigued. After several follow-up discussions and a staged reading, Raiff hopped on board and agreed to produce an off-Broadway production of “Night Sky.”
What happened after that can only be described as a whirlwind. Less than six months after that fateful wedding meeting, a stage production was conceived. Although Ganzfried described herself as someone who has “tried many, many things,” theater was never one of them. Nonetheless, she took part writing, staging, and even casting, where she sat behind a table and watched as the actors auditioned. “I felt like Paula Abdul on ‘American Idol’!” she laughed.
She also learned about theater’s condensed time frame. From the time that Raiff agreed to produce “Night Sky” to the benefit performance on June 4 (the beginning of National Aphasia Awareness Month), the play went through an enormous amount of rewrites, staging tweaks, and editing.
“There really wasn’t a lot of preplanning, which was strange for me,” Ganzfried said. “I had to adjust to what felt like flying by the seat of my pants, but it was just business as usual to them.”
But this involvement was more than just an educational opportunity for Ganzfried to learn about theater—it was also a chance for theater to learn about aphasia. On the first day of rehearsal, Ganzfried arranged for the actors to observe a local aphasia support group, where they met people living with aphasia—some with mild cases and others who were affected more severely—and asked a lot of questions. The trip proved to be eye-opening, Ganzfried said.
“It was interesting for [the actors] to learn that people with aphasia retain their intellect, humor, and other capabilities. That’s one of the most common misconceptions,” she said. The visit was eye-opening for her as well. “I guess I took for granted that everybody knows what speech-language pathologists do and their role in treatment, but they don’t. I was giving suggestions on everything from whether an SLP would be touching a patient to if they would be wearing a white coat.”
The aphasia-immersion program didn’t stop there. A week later Ganzfried arranged for people with aphasia and their families to attend one of the rehearsals. She wanted to see their reactions to the actors’ performances and to make sure the story resonated with them. Happily, it did. The performance was very well-received and the actors gladly incorporated suggestions from their audience into their performances.
The play has been through rehearsal after rehearsal, had an NAA benefit performance, and ran May 22–June 20, receiving several positive reviews. The New York Times called it “evocative as well as informative.” NAA will use all proceeds from the benefit performance to help provide resources and services to people with aphasia and their families.
“This has been an incredible experience,” said Ganzfried. “[The actors and the audience] really embraced the subject because it’s more than about aphasia—it’s about communication between people.”
0 Comments
Submit a Comment
Submit A Comment
Name
Comment Title
Comment


This feature is available to Subscribers Only
Sign In or Create an Account ×
FROM THIS ISSUE
July 2009
Volume 14, Issue 9