Neil Marcus, whose art-lit handicap died at the age of 67

Neil Marcus, whose art-lit handicap died at the age of 67


Whenever his play “Storm Reading” is performed, writer and actor Neil Marcus reminded his audience: “Disability is not a brave struggle or courage in the face of adversity. Disability is an art. It’s a brilliant way of life. “

Mr Marcus, who suffered from dystonia, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary muscle contractions and impairs speech, starred in the play, which comically illuminated how he went around the world in a typical week through vignettes of him, dealing with grocery buyers, doctors and passers-by.

When the show premiered at the Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara, California in 1988, people often looked away from people with disabilities. “We were always taught as children that we don’t show, we don’t laugh, we just ignore them,” said Rod Lathim, the director of Storm Reading, in an interview.

In contrast, Storm Reading encouraged the audience to have a laugh with Mr. Marcus at his experience.

“Neil invited and greeted and in some cases asked people to look,” said Mr. Lathim. “And so he brought her into his reality, which was not a reality of disability; it was a reality of his definition of life. “

The success and longevity of the piece, which toured across the country until 1996, made Mr. Marcus a pioneer in the disabled culture movement. He called his work a recovery of personality in a world that is determined to deny autonomy to people with disabilities.

Mr. Marcus died on November 17 at his Berkeley, California home. He was 67 years old.

His sister Kendra Marcus said the cause was dystonia.

In 1987, Mr. Marcus and his brother Roger contacted Mr. Lathim, the director of the Access Theater, a Santa Barbara company that regularly performed plays with disabled artists. Neil Marcus sent samples of his lyrics and asked Mr. Lathim if the theater would be interested in adapting them.

Their conversation led to the creation of “Storm Reading”. Mr. Marcus, his brother and Mr. Lathim worked together to create the piece, the three cast originally included Roger as “The Voice,” who portrayed Neil’s thoughts during his interactions (the role was later played by Matthew Ingersoll) , as well as a sign language interpreter.

The show was physically demanding for Mr. Marcus. But it also enlivened him.

“There is no drug, there is no treatment that I think is as powerful as the interaction between a live audience and an artist on stage,” said Lathim. “And it was amazing to watch Neil transform himself.”

Scenes from “Storm Reading” were filmed for NBC as part of the 1989 television special “From the Heart” about disability, hosted by actor Michael Douglas. The cast met in 2018 to perform at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.

Neil Marcus was born in Scarsdale, NY on January 3, 1954, the youngest of five children of Wil Marcus, who worked in public relations, and Lydia (Perera) Marcus, an actress. When Neil was 6 years old, the family moved to Ojai, California.

Neil was 8 years old when he learned he had dystonia and attempted suicide after a series of serious surgeries when he was 14, he said in a 2006 oral history interview for the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley.

But the advice gave him confidence. He attended Ojai Valley School, where he often saw whizzing around in a golf cart. After graduating from high school in 1971 as the best in his class, he traveled to Laos; When he returned, he hitchhiked along the west coast, eventually taking classes at Fairhaven College, which is part of Western Washington University, and elsewhere. In 1980 he moved to Berkeley and became active in the disability activist community.

He explored the art through various partnerships. With professional dancers he took part in “Contact Improvisation” performances that dispensed with formal choreographies and instead followed the seemingly frenetic movements of Mr Marcus’ dystonia.

He also wrote a lot. He worked with University of Michigan professor and activist Petra Kuppers on the Olimpias Performance Research Project, an artists collective that illuminates actors with disabilities in performances and documentaries. Her discussions on disability as art were published in a 2009 essay, Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theater and Performance. The two also wrote a book called “Cripple Poetics: A Love Story” (2008) which contains poetry and photography that highlight the physicality and sensuality of disability.

The Neil Marcus Papers, including his essays, poems and correspondence, are kept in the Bancroft Library.

In addition to his sister Kendra, Mr. Marcus leaves behind another sister, Wendy Marcus, and his brothers Roger and Russell.

In 2014, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History commissioned Mr. Marcus to write a poem dedicated to their online exhibition, EveryBody: An Artifact History of Disability in America.

His poem began:

“If there were a country called the handicapped, I would be from there. / I live the culture of the handicapped, eat handicapped food, make love for the handicapped, / cry handicapped tears, climb mountains for handicapped people and tell handicapped stories.”



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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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