I am so thrilled to share this powerful play by my friend and fellow poet Sofia Ghassaei. Sofia is involved in many activities, including theater, and I particularly love that she is taking on an interest in a field that doesn’t immediately seem accessible to nonspeakers. She and others like her working in theater are changing how we view performance and storytelling and voice.
I want to strongly emphasize that she is able to explore this passion through her access to communication. Communication is not just about the practical purpose of life logistics, but also about flourishing in a life we have the main voice in!
Thank you Sofia for sharing this!
Introduction from Sofi
Someone asked me to put my soul out there and write a play. I did, and it was an amazing experience. I said yes to adventure. It was so hard to be on stage but all went well.
Each time I am challenged I find I can thrive.
Words Unheard by Sofia Ghassaei
Originally produced by Theater of Possibility, Seattle, WA, 2022
Setting: high school life skills classroom
Teacher 1, Teacher 2
Sofi1- non-speaker, uses a letterboard
Sofi 2- voiceover actor for thoughts, reading filmed poetry
Instructional aide (no lines)
Communication Partner – Eric
3-5 other students- speaking and non-speaking-Mary, Melody, Sarah, Tomas, Alex
(Scene- Teachers are at the waste basket in front of the classroom, speaking so all the students can hear. Students are seated at the desks, sorting pens in the “task box”, totally exasperated.)
MARY: Not again! We did this yesterday.
SARAH: So boring. Time for my brain to rot.
TOMAS: No harm in skipping this time killer shit.
MELODY: (throws pen on floor)
T1: Really can’t wait for break, talking to these kiddos all day can stunt the brain.
T2: I know! Everyone’s acting almost crazy -they aren’t paying attention at all.
T1: One more won’t help. This new one, Sofi, has a communication partner coming after lunch. As if they don’t trust us to do our job.
T2: Pretty strange if you ask me. She’s nonverbal so what does she have to say?
(Sofi enters, really anxious, with some instructional aide)
T1: It says on the IEP that the new student likes music and poetry.
T2: (speaking slowly and loudly) Let’s sing and clap to the elephant song to welcome Sofi to room 10! Everyone sing in time to my march!
TEACHERS AND STUDENTS:
Let’s stomp our feet and
Swing our trunks
Time to meet and
Get out of our funks
(Sofi yells, makes a fuss, reels and walks out of room, teacher makes her sit down again)
SOFI (voiceover thought): My God, what hell is this? I’m 16, not 6. That didn’t really count as music or poetry.
Hale High School
Most are rambling around
I am alone
Sounds and smells
assault my senses
They ask how I am
but no one waits
for my response
No one speaks
I’m not paying attention
Not to this class
I’m listening to a lecture
down the hall
I’m learning lines
in my drama
I’m composing lovely symphonies
no one will hear
with a happier ending
I’m going to school
but not what you think
PART 2 after lunch
(Scene-Communication partner Eric arrives. Sofi hugs him, so happy to see him. They sit at table/desk.)
ERIC Hey, how is the first day going?
(Sofi spells on letterboard)
SOFI (voiceover): The classroom is overwhelming, and the teachers are oblivious. I don’t belong here.
T1: What are you doing?
ERIC: She’s spelling her thoughts. This is how she communicates. I just hold the letterboard so it’s in her field of vision. She selects the letters one at a time.
T1: So what did she spell on that board?
ERIC: She said,” the classroom is overwhelming, and the teachers are oblivious. I don’t belong here.”
T2: What? I don’t believe you. She’s not that smart.
T1: Here we only use signs, speech or ipad programs to express our needs. Those work, especially since we already know them.
SOFI (voiceover): Those methods don’t work for me. No one enjoys teachers telling them their communication isn’t respected, their words not valid.
The Weight of Words
In my mind
Like an old rug
Wishing to be aired
Lips and ears
A lace curtain
Blowing in the wind
Part 3 After school
(T1 and T2 in class, no students except Sofi and Eric.)
T1: (to T2) She can’t insist on bringing her board or Eric
T2: So disruptive!
ERIC (angry): You being uncomfortable with her spelling is no excuse. She is entitled to education.
T2: There are rules in school.
T1: We are the experts.
SOFI spells and ERIC says out loud- The only expert on me is me.
SOFI (Voiceover poem)-
I am worthy
I am invincible
I am today and tomorrow
I am someone
I am necessary
I am powerfully resilient
I am strong
I am fuel
And you lit my fire
(End of play)
As part of Sound Theatre’s Gaslight Project, on Saturday July 16, 2-3:45 PM at 12th Avenue Arts, Theater of Possibility will present Words Unheard – a collection of three short plays by young adult writers on the autism spectrum.
About Theater of Possibility (TOP):
Founded in 2010 by Lauren Goldman Marshall, TOP provides a creative voice and supportive community for kids, teens and adults with autism and other neurological differences, along with neurotypical allies. TOP offers weekly classes and summer camps for ages 8-14 and 15+ TOP has previously presented at Intersections Festival, the North American Drama Therapy Association, World Affairs Council-International Visitor Leadership Program, the Washington State Arts Alliance Cultural Congress, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle Children’s Hospital, and Seattle Public Schools. Next up, TOP will be partnering with ArtsWest to present Spectrum Stories, an original play exploring neurodiversity through the ages, for spring 2023.
More about Words Unheard, by Sofia Ghassaei
This powerful piece, drawn from the author’s own experience, juxtaposes a high school special ed classroom, in which the teachers assume a non-speaking autistic student has nothing to say, with vivid poetry expressing her inner thoughts.
19-year-old Sofia Ghassaei’s poems and writings have been published in Teen Creative magazine, Neuroclastic, and presented at the Boards and Chords Music Festival and SpellX. She is one of five writers internationally selected for the 2022-23 Lynx Amplify Project, which pairs autistic poets with composers to set their words to music. Due to severe apraxia, Sofia uses a letterboard to communicate.
Sofi this is incredible.
You are an amazing young woman with a bright future
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I am beyond thrilled that this world is finally witness to your thoughtful, wise, and extraordinary voice, Sofi.
Thank you, for sharing your Soul, your experiences (both joyous & bitter), and your abundant wisdom in a such beautiful and thought-provoking ways.
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