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American Lives Theatre gives Indy actors with disabilities the stage in 'Cost of Living'

"Cost of Living" shows in Indianapolis April 15-30 at Fonseca Theatre
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Posted at 2:06 PM, Apr 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-13 19:00:05-04

INDIANAPOLIS — A new play opening at a west side theatre this weekend shares the Pultizer Prize-winning story by Martyna Majok about the human need for other people, no matter our advantages or disadvantages in life.

"Cost of Living" will be showing at Fonseca Theatre, located at 2508 W. Michigan St., starting Friday.

The play showcases the intersection of a truck driver reuniting with his ex-wife after she suffers a devastating accident and a doctoral student who hires an overworked caregiver.

According to Dramatists Play Service, Cost of Living "delves into the chasm between abundance and need and explores the space where bodies—abled and disabled—meet each other."

The play is being produced in Indianapolis by American Lives Theatre (ALT) for the first time. ALT's founder and creative director, Chris Saunders, says he's been working to get Cost of Living in Indy since it first hit theaters in 2016.

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In the four-character play “Cost of Living” by Martyna Majok, American Lives Theatre artistic director Chris Saunders only searched for Indianapolis actors living with disabilities to play roles of characters with physical disabilities. Clay Mabbitt (left) plays Eddie, and Olivia Mozzi (right) plays Ani.

"I don't think that there's a lie on the page," Saunders said of Majok's Cost of Living.

In an interview with WRTV, Saunders said everything about the play is "beautifully truthful and authentic" in a way that he's never seen before.

Saunders adds that as a production company that values representational casting, it was a chance for ALT to cast Indianapolis actors with disabilities.

"It was an opportunity to expand our casting and use disabled actors for these roles that tell the stories of disabled people that's not in a stereotypical sort of inspiring way," Saunders explained. "That's complex people on stage."

Appropriately casting actors with disabilities for the roles of characters with disabilities does not happen a lot. Actually, it's pretty rare.

According to a 2016 report by the Ruderman Foundation, a nonprofit that researches and advocates for disability inclusion, 95% of characters with disabilities on television are played by non-disabled individuals.

And although 1 in 4 people (26%) in the United States have some type of disability, the percentage of broadcasted series regular characters with a disability was 3.5% for the 2020-21 television season, according to GLAAD's "Where We Are on TV" report.

Because of just how rare it is to see a character in television or movies with a disability (or if you do see a disabled character, it's accurately cast), Olivia Mozzi, a local actor, says Indianapolis audiences get to see something special.

"The fact that the playwright, and this company, and this director, are insistent on authentic representation is actually rare. So, our audiences have a really special opportunity to see that and not one but two actors [with disabilities]," Mozzi said.

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“Cost of Living” by Martyna Majok will be showing at Fonseca Theatre, located at 2508 W. Michigan St., starting Friday, Apr. 15, 2022.
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Olivia Mozzi plays Ani in the American Lives Theatre's production of "Cost of Living."

Mozzi lives with a physical disability and is one of the four-person cast of Cost of Living. Although she's been acting since high school, she's never played a disabled role before.

"I will say, in general, as a disabled actor, I've seen the gamut of directors that were really hesitant to work with me because of obstacles that they perceived in that process, to people who were more welcoming," Mozzi said.

Mozzi hopes more playwrights, directors, and companies, local and national, follow in ALT's footsteps.

"And the fact that actors with disabilities are invited to this table, not just because we have disabilities but certainly because of it, is incredibly special," Mozzi said. "I hope that it'll serve as an example for other companies."

Mozzi, who plays Ani, says that regardless of what you think you know about disability, Cost of Living will surprise you.

"My character is the exact opposite of a lot of the stereotypes that you see about the disability community. So I think it's going to surprise people, but in a good way," she said.

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Fonseca Theatre is on the west side of Indianapolis.

ALT was founded in 2019, and has made it a point to bring plays to Indianapolis that have yet to be shown in the state.

"They've (the plays) all been sort of tackling contemporary feelings, contemporary themes, sometimes even uncomfortable subjects, but just things that we're all dealing with right now," Saunders said of how he and his company pick their plays.

You can keep an eye on americanlivestheatre.org for the lineup next season. Tickets to see Cost of Living at Fonseca Theatre can be purchased online for $25.

WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at shakkira.harris@wrtv.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.