by Melanie Mullinax
When Abira and the Mountain opens to a packed audience in October, Amy Stone and Ryan Perry will realize yet another dream come true, both in their personal lives, and in their dedication to spreading awareness, empathy and acceptance throughout our community.
Amy, 23, will take the lead role as the beautiful and innovative princess Abira, who happens to use a wheelchair. Ryan, 22, will present the strong voice of the Mountain that helps provide strength and inspiration to Abira, who discovers that by embracing her own challenges, she can also help others.
But the story of Amy and Ryan runs much deeper than playing the leading roles of A Place To Be’s newest full-scale musical.
Amy, who was born with cerebral palsy, and Ryan, who has high functioning autism, wrote the original screenplay for Abira. The two met at A Place To Be several years ago, and in addition to being strong advocates and ambassadors for supporting others with disabilities in our community, they also began their own fairytale romance.
At the day of this interview Ryan, beaming at Amy, offered, “We’ve been dating one year, seven months and 19 days.”
Their affection, respect and acceptance of each other is as obvious as their devotion to helping others and expanding understanding. It is also what sparked the idea of Abira and the Mountain.
“We were having a conversation while having lunch at Panera,” Ryan says. “I was telling Amy about how impressed I was with the newest Power Ranger story line, depicting a Power Ranger with Autism.” Amy agreed, adding, “Now we just need a Disney Princess in a wheelchair.”
Despite what may appear to be challenges to casual onlookers, Amy and Ryan have few limitations. So, if Disney was not ready for a princess in a wheelchair, Amy and Ryan were ready to write about one.
Ryan, a talented writer, started the screenplay. He would read back his work to Amy who would comment and make suggestions. What they ended up with was a story of a strong and beautiful princess, who happened to be in a wheelchair, who found the courage and strength to leave the safe confines of her castle to find others like herself, and to become a source of inspiration and strength.
If you knew Amy, you would recognize this storyline as paralleling her own life.
When Amy first began coming to A Place To Be in 2010, she could barely speak said Kim Tapper, Executive Director of A Place To Be. “Amy has quadriplegic cerebral palsy (which means all four of her limbs are affected). Spending her life in a wheelchair, having numerous caregivers...she felt very vulnerable,” Kim said. But through music therapy, Amy quickly found her voice both physically and metaphorically. “Amy’s mind is brilliant,” Kim added. “She is a creative visionary, and she wanted to be known for more than just a girl in a wheelchair.”
Amy helped develop A Place To Be’s signature program, The Same Sky Project®, a traveling group of performers who advocate for and promote messages of empathy, love, inclusion, acceptance and inspiration through music and performance. Since 2011, more than 60,000 local students have been impacted by The Same Sky Project productions.
Amy has also become a tireless mentor, spokesperson and ambassador for both A Place To Be and the local school system, speaking at schools about the challenges student face and even helping to rewrite IEP (Individualized Education Programs) to better support public school children with challenges. “If I can do something to help other kids, so that they don’t have to go through what I went through, it will all be worth it,” says Amy of her work.
And now, through the art of theater, Abira and the Mountain offers one more venue for Ryan and Amy to share their story, and support and inspire others.
It is not unusual for A Place To Be to use the creative work of its talented clients to create musicals and powerful performances, but Abira and the Mountain is different. “Most of the time, when we produce a musical or performance, our clients are collaborating with us. Abira and the Mountain is truly originated by Amy and Ryan. They brought it to us as a whole story, we are just turning it into a musical to be shared with others,“ Kim said.
But Ryan and Amy are quick to point out, that turning their story into a full-scale musical was still a major undertaking. “The music in the production is astonishing and it was written and arranged by Brandon Hasson (a music therapist at A Place To Be) and the the show features a remarkable and talented group of performers and a production crew that really bring this story to life.”
Abira and the Mountain will have its public premier in Middleburg, playing one day only at the Hill School on October 7 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door. The musical will then tour Loudoun County Middle schools throughout the fall as part of The Same Sky Project underwritten entirely by generous support from the Virts Miller Foundation.
Amy and Ryan hope the show will move others to spread more compassion and understanding throughout our community. “I hope the messages of the musical don’t just hang in the auditorium. I hope people look around and see people who are different from them and reach out,” Ryan said. Amy added, “This is not just a beautiful show to see on stage, people need to apply it to their real lives. “
And if you didn’t catch it, there is not a prince in this story. “We wanted the princess to be able to do this on her own,” Amy said. Smiling at his own real-life princess, Ryan added, “Maybe we’ll add a prince in the sequel. “