New Production Explores Life With Parkinson's, Other Challenges

Sep 21, 2017

A new Pittsburgh stage production is rooted in the exploration of Parkinson's disease. In the Company of Ghosts looks at how challenges like disease affect the way people view each other and themselves.

In the Company of Ghosts runs Sept. 22-24 at the New Hazlett Theater on Pittsburgh's North Side.

Veteran artists Frank Ferraro and Adrienne Wehr are known for their sculptures, paintings, web series and stage productions, but for the last two years they’ve been working on this stage production. In preparation for this weekend's shows, Wehr said they held workshop sessions at the Oaks Theater in Oakmont where they shared deeply personal experiences.

“And at the very end of it the audience stuck around and they were motivated and inspired to tell their own stories that were inspired by what they had just seen,” said Wehr. “We knew that we were onto something, so all of a sudden we were having this active exchange and communication and connectivity.”

In the Company of Ghosts is a theatrical production that incorporates spoken word and video installation through a series of vignettes, each looking at shared human experiences through its creators' personal stories, including Ferraro’s real-life battle with Parkinson's disease.

“[The] idea of being haunted by these entities that control us. In my case it was Parkinson's and my body was being controlled in ways that I couldn't control,” Ferraro said. “I felt like somebody else was driving the car.”

Not feeling like one’s self is typical for Parkinson's sufferers, according to one of Ferraro's physicians, Dr. Amber Van Laar.

“I think one of the earliest signs of Parkinson's that effects mood is actually fatigue, and it's insidious,” Van Laar said. “The fatigue can be just really heavy. Patients describe it as like a heavy, wet blanket. It just affects every aspect of their day.”

Van Laar says In the Company of Ghosts is a window into the lives of those with Parkinson's.

“This is a great way to help other people who don't have Parkinson's understand what it may feel like, what the day to day experience may be like,” she said.

But people with Parkinson's experience the disease in different ways. Ferraro said he wants to make sure the perspectives of other people with the disease are represented.

“[I] listen to their stories and understand their struggles, and translated some of their ideas into the performance," Ferraro said. "So…it's inclusive for the whole community of people that are suffering.”

It's the perfect metaphor for grief, dealing with loss of identity and the emergence of authentic self, Wehr said, not just disease.

“We're not playing the roles or characters," Ferraro said. "We're playing ourselves, which I think brings a genuine truth people can relate to.”