81. Who is this One-Armed Brother Who Bakes and Acts on the Side?

(from Brother Rick Curry — Able Actor by Retta Blaney)

For an actor, being rejected for a TV commercial is disappointing. But when an actor never even gets to audition because he is laughed out of the building, the hurt is devastating.

And then it is life-changing.

Brother Rick Curry S.J., 56, was that actor. In 1977 he went to try out for a mouthwash commercial. His fellow graduate students at New York University were earning high fees doing commercials, so even though acting as a profession wasn't his goal, he decided to give it a go. He received permission from his Jesuit provincial superior and memorized the script, because turning pages is hard for him.

He told the receptionist at the studio he was there to audition for the commercial, and she laughed. She thought her boyfriend was playing a trick on her. The idea that a man born without a right forearm could be in a television commercial was too much for her. For the first time in his life, the then-34-year-old Curry saw himself as disabled.

"It was really a terrible blow to me," he says.''My parents hadn't raised me that way. I thought, what do people do who have greater disabilities than mine?"

He pondered that question while finishing his doctoral dissertation on 17th-century Jesuit theater. St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, encouraged students to practice what we now call visualization when they read the Gospels, to see themselves as stable boys in Bethlehem or in other roles."I thought, why not apply the principles of 17th-century Jesuit theater for the disabled?"

Such was the beginning of the National Theater Workshop of the Handicapped. At first, recruiting was a challenge because so many disabled people were accustomed to shunning attention. The thought of getting on a stage and saying, "Look at me" was foreign to them.

But not for long. Over the last two decades, more than 2,500 students have studied at NTWH's New York studios and another 500 at its two-year-old residential facility in Belfast, Maine.

NTWH's newly opened bakery in Maine has begun catalog and Internet sales of Brother Curry's Bread, based on recipes from Curry's popular book, Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking. Proceeds will benefit NTWH, as will sales of the students' recently recorded CD of choral music.

And lives will continue to be changed as students step out on stage. "You can see the transformation," Curry says. "Instead of thinking of their physical limitations, people have to think of themselves as whole human beings. Dramatic literature can raise the human spirit so people can begin to celebrate who they are."

Trivia: Brother Rick also bakes and cooks delicious soups.


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