Alison Neuman has always loved theatre. But she was told she would be hard pressed to find roles for a person with a disability and that she probably wouldn’t get much work.
After writing her memoir, Searching for Normal, the Bachelor of Applied Communications in Professional Writing alumna decided that by adapting her book into a musical, her show would have a role for a person experiencing a disability.
Searching for Normal the Musical debuts at the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival, August 15 to 25. This is Alison’s first musical, which she is also co-directing, and her cast includes MacEwan University Theatre Arts student Dylan Thomas Evans and alumna Danielle Weisz.
Watch this video interview with Alison as the Searching for Normal the Musical cast rehearses for the show.
What is Searching for Normal about? Why did you write both a book and a musical?
Searching for Normal is my creative non-fiction book [to be released in November]. It’s about my life growing up, trying to find my place in the world and the definition of normal according to the dictionary.
The musical is actually based on the book, but it’s more of a tribute to my mom. She has dementia now, but when I attended MacEwan, she spent one year going to every class with me and helping me get around. So it’s about my life, but it’s also a tribute to her and everything she’s done.
What was your plan for writing this book?
I wanted to explore this definition of normal, and it’s different for everybody. The dictionary says it’s conforming to an accepted standard. I actually found normal when I was attending school. I was in a psychology class and realized, “hey, this is a normal life – I’m going to school, I have classes, life, work.” I was just like every other student at that point.
What would be some challenges you encountered writing the musical?
While dialogue is important in a book, it’s very important when you’re writing a play because that’s the only way that the audience is getting the information. You can’t give scene descriptions or emotions – it all has to come through the dialogue and the setting, and the lyrics have to be very precise.
Why are you debuting the show at the Fringe Festival?
I have a life list of things I want to do before I die, and that was on the list. I was so lucky to be chosen. It’s like a lottery.
I was picked in November. I didn’t even have the play written. So I wrote it over the Christmas break and we held auditions in May. There are such amazing theatre actors and actresses in Edmonton, just amazing.
Were there a lot of people after the lead role?
I had a few. Ethically it was very important for me to have somebody who has a disability play me in the musical. I had interest from Ali Stroker who was on The Glee Project last summer. She wanted to read my script and I was just so complimented because she’s such an amazing talent. I was speaking with her agent about it, but it just didn’t fit. It needed workshopping to be the best it could be and she lives out of New York and Los Angeles, so flying in and out was just not possible.