My name is Aliki Pantas Semones. I’m an actress, director, producer and children’s acting teacher. I have fibromyalgia, as well as several other chronic and life altering health problems that have caused me to be differently abled for the last seven years. Every minute is a new variable and a new unknown as a result of my health.
I never know when something will trigger me, or my pain will suddenly change. This has greatly affected my ability to work. I have desperately missed creating, and I have desperately missed the theater.
Thanks to Virginia Stage Company (VSC), and their new program called Public Works Virginia, I was presented with an opportunity to return to the stage in a safe environment. The VSC website describes Public Works Virginia as “a major initiative of Virginia Stage Company that seeks to engage the people of Hampton Roads by making them creators of theater rather than spectators.” For more information, please visit http://www.vastage.org/publicworksvirginia.
This summer, they had auditions for their first show, The Tempest, by William Shakespeare, directed by Patrick Mullins. I have worked with Patrick many times, both at ODU and when I worked at VSC after I graduated ODU. When I saw the casting call for this show, and that it would be a part of the Public Works Virginia, and therefore disability friendly, I was so excited! I felt that this would be the perfect place for me to return to the stage after my break. My anxiety started to talk me out of it, but thankfully my husband, Glenn, encouraged me to talk to the director, and hopefully do the show. I contacted Patrick and told him I was interested, and I wanted to talk to him about my health to see if this would be a good fit. We arranged for me to stop by auditions.
The day arrived to meet Patrick, and still my anxiety tried to talk me out of being there. But the second I stepped foot on stage at the Wells Theater, I felt those anxieties leave immediately. I felt back at home. It was incredible. After a long conversation with Patrick and Philip Odango, the Public Works Coordinator, about my health and limitations, (including unable to sit or stand for long periods, have a rollator walker that I use to help me be able to sit immediately when needed, have light and sound sensitivity, chronic migraines, limited range of motion, and many more things), Patrick suggested that the ensemble would be a good fit for my return to the stage. I was relieved that someone was willing to accomodate me and allow me this incredible opportunity! I thank Patrick & Philip for their Public Works Virginia program, and for this opportunity to create and act again.
My first rehearsal was awesome! It felt so good to be in a rehearsal again! I learned that one of my scene partners is Deaf and will be using American Sign Language in the show. I later learned that our show will include more members of our community including Atumpan Edutainment, which is run by Corey Staten, and his wife, LaQuita. Corey lost his site at 19 due to an illness. I was thrilled to see that VSC and Public Works Virginia truly incorporating every one into the theater, just as it should be. We read the script, then started working on our first scene. Our next few rehearsals were harder for me. I had a hard time accepting that I needed to take more breaks and work differently in order to survive rehearsal. It made me question my choices doing the show, and I got more frustrated. But my heart felt so happy to be on stage again, so I kept trying. My director & producer, Katherine Hammond, also always assured me that it was okay to take breaks, and that taking care of myself was important. Their support also helped encourage me to not give up.
The director recently suggested to me that I use my walker in the show. At first I had a very hard time accepting this. But then, I remembered how excited I was when I saw Ali Stroker, an actress in a wheelchair, make history with her Tony win earlier in the summer. She won Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Oklahoma. She made history as the first person to use a wheelchair for mobility on Broadway, and later made history again as the first wheelchair user to get a Tony nomination and win. She inspired me to get back onstage. Now she helped me accept that it’s okay to have my walker onstage with me! In fact, since having the walker onstage with me, I have felt more confident that I can do this. I am so relieved and thankful to my director for suggesting that I use it.
During a rehearsal in the middle of August, I had a pretty severe migraine that prevented me from finishing rehearsal. I had to inform management that I was too ill to continue, and needed to leave early. I apologized about this and my Producer, Katherine Hammond, assured me that it was okay and that I needed to take care of myself and my health. I was so thankful and overwhelmed with, once again, they were all so accommodating to my needs. Not only has my management team been incredibly helpful and understanding, but so have my castmates. People have helped me move my walker up and down stairs for me, gotten ice to help me cool down or relieve pain, and just asked me how I am doing. I have deeply appreciated the kindness and understanding from everyone in my cast and crew. It has made the process so much better for me. I will forever be thankful to Patrick, Philip and Katherine for making my return to the stage possible.
I still have a bit of a way to go before our show opens on Aug 30, but I am trying to stay optimistic about the rest of my rehearsal process. I know it is going to be hard, probably harder than I can imagine. It already has been. However, I am just so humbled and thankful for this opportunity, and thrilled to be on stage again, and that is what is carrying me through the hard times. I am blessed to have a strong support system with my friends and family, and my theatre family! I truly hope that this show inspires others that anyone, no matter their ability, can do anything they want to.
I would like to dedicate my performance to my parents (George, JoAnn & Atsuko), my sisters (Constantina & Teresa), my husband (Glenn), my nephew (Johnny), my brother (Cory), all of my family, all of my friends, & God for carrying me through these last seven years of my illness, and to all the invisible illness, differently-abled & disabled humans everywhere. Thank you so much to all of you for inspiring me to keep fighting. And please know that you are not alone.
In keeping with the theme of Public Works Virginia that theater is accessible for everyone, tickets to The Tempest are free and first come first serve. Show dates and times are August 30 at 7:30 pm, August 31 at 3 pm and September 1 at 2 pm. To reserve your tickets, go to www.vastage.org.