Even in their own country, the messages and themes of the China Disabled People’s Performing Arts Troupe has a way of breaking down barriers and forming connections across myriad experiences. At a prison in Shanghai where the troupe performed in 2003, Tai Lihua shared her thoughts with the inmates, “When we heard that we would be performing for prisoners, I was afraid. But sitting with you today, I feel that we share a lot. The difference between us is that we are handicapped physically and you spiritually.”
These principles have also allowed the troupe to learn and grow from each other, expanding their horizons. Because everyone in the troupe has some form of disability, they must often work together, using complementary strengths to overcome individual weaknesses. Mutual respect, mutual care, mutual aid, and mutual complementarities were necessities in the troupe’s execution of “At The Crossroads.” The classic Peking opera involves the main character General Jiao Zan exiled for a crime he did not commit.
Warrior Ren Tanghui is sent to protect Jiao Zan; however, a misunderstanding leads Jiao Zen to attack Ren Tanghui, thinking he was sent to assassinate him. Given this plot, the performance obviously included spectacular martial arts sequences. Imagine all of this produced by a mix of performers who are hearing, visually, or physically impaired. To achieve this, they worked together, with the visually impaired memorizing rhythm, providing accompaniment and dubbing, and signing for the hearing impaired.
In addition to practicing and performing together, the troupe lives together in dorms, shares meals together, and helps each other with day to day tasks. When they travel, they wear the same uniforms and take the same suitcases. The hearing-impaired performers look after the ones who are visually impaired and physically disabled. They conclude the relations between them with, “I am your eyes, and you are my ears; I am your mouth, and you are my legs.”