Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Blind artist tells his life story in 'Weights'

By Rita Charleston
Philadelphia Tribune Correspondent

A show written and performed by Lynn Manning, "Weights," is being presented by the Amaryllis Theater at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St., through April 29.

Critically acclaimed in New York and Los Angeles, this award-winning, semi-autobiographical one-man show dramatizes Manning's triumph over extreme adversity. Through poetry, music and riveting narrative, Manning presents his incredible journey of an artist, who shot and blinded, refuses to be pitied or to fail his inner spirit.

Born in Los Angeles to an impoverished single mother and raised in foster care, by the age of 23 Manning had dreams of succeeding as a visual artist. Then, the unthinkable happened.

One night in 1978, a bar brawl escalated and Manning was shot in the head, losing his sight completely and changing the life he was planning to live.

"I had originally dreamed of becoming a visual artist, a Black Michelangelo," Manning says. "I was already painting and drawing and selling a few pieces here and there before the brawl. But my response to the incidence was quite a bit different from what I guess was expected.

"First of all," he says, "I was just glad to get up off the barroom floor and had already made alternate plans in my life that if, for some reason I couldn't paint, I would write. So I wanted to set that game plan in motion right away and I knew that the best way to do that was to go back to school, get as much training as I could, and be able to reclaim my independence which was very important to me."

And so he did. This man, who had grown up in foster care and who had already experienced a great deal of loss in his life, refused to suffer anymore. He insists he did not want to wallow in self-pity, which seemed to him counterproductive and of very little value.

Instead, he starting writing poetry at first and, highly successful, was invited to share his work with others. Having to perform in front of an audience was difficult because he says he suffered from stage fright.
But, overcoming that, Manning went on to test his skills as an actor, again achieving success. Later, that same success came to him as a playwright.

"When I was still a teen I told myself someday I would write my autobiography, so, when I did become a writer, that's exactly what I began to do. My first multi-character play was produced in 1991 and later there were more. 'Weight,' my ninth play, was finally done and presented in 2001."

The play, which premiered n Los Angeles, went on to win three NAACP Theatre Awards, including Best Actor for Manning, and has since been performed throughout the country, including by the Theatre By The Blind in New York City.

As a poet, his work has appeared in numerous magazines and literary anthologies. As an actor, he has appeared in such TV shows as "8 Simple Rules, "Seinfeld," "The Sinbad Show" and others.

Additionally, Manning has achieved "world class" status in competitive judo, going on to become the U.S. Olympic Committee's "Blind Male Athlete of the Year" after winning the Blind Judo World Championship at the 1990 games in Holland, and much, much more.

A true renaissance man despite his disability, Manning says he hopes his audience comes away with one message: "That is recognizing that there are far broader possibilities for people who are blind or visually-impaired, or disabled in general, and that since we don't all fit into one profile, one mold, we should all be judged as individuals."

The Amaryllis Theatre Company is the Pennsylvania affiliate of VSA arts.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Dreamers News

The Richmond theater group "The Dreamers" will be performing Sunday night, April 22nd at the JCC. They've had the good fortune of receiving several mentions in the press lately which included a feature on the public television show Perspective and this article in V Magazine for Women. (Click on underlined words to read the article).

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