Directing with purpose

Natalie Valencia

Photo By vic cantu

Natalie Valencia is the full-time program director for a group of adult actors with developmental disabilities in Chico called Theatre in the Now. They are the only local theater program of this kind. They perform annually for 2,000 people, mostly in North State elementary schools. Theatre in the Now teaches classes such as playwriting, acting, theater history and music. Earlier in her career, Valencia worked in acting and helping people with disabilities before heading the Drama Extraordinaire program for the Work Training Center. Theatre in the Now is headquartered at the 7th Street Centre for the Arts in Chico, and is a division of Mains’l Services Inc., which offers housing for many of their clients. For information on the program or performances, call Valencia at 809-1288.

What are the main goals of Theatre in the Now?

We want to both help our consumers by teaching them acting and to bring live theater to the schools. We want to have kids see people with disabilities as role models. Lots of our actors get a self-esteem boost when they get recognized in the community by others.

What is the acceptable term to use when referring to your clients?

We prefer “actor” or “consumer.” We don’t use the word “retardation”; it’s a major insult. I’ve been working with this population for 20 years, and I’ve never had a single actor or consumer who didn’t have a traumatic incident by being called retarded. We consider it like the “N” word for African-Americans, but everyone uses it in society. My personal opinion: People think the world is getting too PC. But it’s not that; it’s a matter of respect.

How do audiences react to your plays?

Students are often genuinely engaged and moved. It’s amazing to see it. After the shows I tell audiences, “Now you can put a face to that ‘R’ word.” Theater in general is an excellent avenue for bringing up social issues.

What show are you working on now?

It’s an original play called On Your Mark, Get Set, Advocate! We have four to five performances left in September. After that we’ll adapt The Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy. That tour will run from January through May of 2011.

What do you like best about your job?

Every day when I come to work I think, “Oh, I am so glad to be here!” Even if I’m having a bad time outside of work, once I walk in that door I suddenly feel relieved and happy. This is my “pinch me” dream job.