From the late 19th century through the early 1900s, Akron’s 15-acre Schneider Park held a potter’s field, where hundreds of people with disabilities from the Akron Infirmary were buried in unmarked graves.
Those ostracized citizens inspired Along the Graveyard Path, a two-act play from Akron’s Theatre on the Spectrum that will premiere sometime this year.
“We’re asking what those bones could tell us if they were dug up,” says Wendy Duke, co-founder of the Center for Applied Drama and Autism, the nonprofit which operates Theatre on the Spectrum.
The inclusive theater, made up of actors and crewmembers with autism and other disabilities, first heard of the graves in an Akron Beacon Journal article. The group wrote the show as a narrative history of the disability rights movement, following fictionalized characters with disabilities from the Paleolithic era to today.
Funded by grants from the Knight Foundation and the Ohio Arts Council, the play gives voice to the forgotten members of Akron’s disabled community, while also celebrating the talents of the theater’s performers and crew.
“Their confidence has grown tremendously through this project,” says Duke.
The narrative is accompanied by the folk-inflected protest music of Jeff Moyer, a Cleveland native and longtime disability rights activist.
It’s been an intensive creative process. Theatre on the Spectrum’s adult and youth actors researched and wrote the play based on archival materials provided by the Akron Library and Akron nonprofit Ardmore Inc., and consultations with the University of Akron’s anthropology department.
“Education through drama is a powerful thing,” says Duke. “We are learning at the same time we are creating.”