By: Natalie Clare
Bagpiper: What is the LDA?
Patty Useem: LDA, the Learning Disabilities Association, is a national association, and we have state affiliates. So, I’m the president of the Indiana state affiliate. It is a nonprofit that is led by individuals with learning disabilities, parents of individuals with learning disabilities, and professionals. We strive to provide information and workshops and support to promote individuals with learning disabilities reaching their potential.
BP: What do you do at the Indiana branch?
PU: I answer questions about learning disabilities that people either phone in to our national office or they email me from our state webpage or the national webpage. I’m one of the principle players of organizing the state conference. I’m also sort of the bridge to the national conference. So, every year the organization sends me to the big national conference, where I gather new ideas or new printed materials, or I find new keynote speakers for our conference. I run our board meetings, and I also have a now monthly E-newsletter. I write articles monthly for that.
BP: What resources are at the LDA for students with learning disabilities? Is it a place students with learning disabilities can go to?
PU: In Indiana, it isn’t. In Indiana, we’re kind of a virtual board of directors, so we don’t really have a physical place. Our information is written information and, in Indiana, we have a state conference every year. In the present time, it’s taking place in Carmel. People can also access a lot of information on our national website and support. People also write in questions, and they get forwarded most times if they’re people from Indiana who have questions about services, or the rules about kids who have special education. They’ll come to me and I’ll answer them, and also give them referrals of maybe they want to get testing done if they’re looking outside the school to do testing. But we don’t provide direct services like help kids with learning disabilities or anything like that. We’re just an information and like I said we have a conference. Some other states provide services, but very few do. Most of it is information.
BP: You said you refer people for testing, but the LDA doesn’t do any testing?
PU: Correct, correct. Sometimes, people are also going to college, so there are rules on how to get services at college. Sometimes, universities have clinics where they can get testing done as well. It’s all referral.
BP: Does the LDA set up events for kids with learning disabilities?
PU: Sometimes we will promote other agencies presentations, but we will do presentations. If people want us to come and talk or be involved in doing presentations to families or to kids about their learning differences and give them some strategies. We’re trying, actually, to do those kinds of services. As a nonprofit, as you can imagine, all those things take money. There are some grant opportunities, where, in fact, we presently have a grant that helps us pay for mileage etc and printing to be able to get information out to people. Sort of not just in the major cities, but more statewide. But that’s something that we’re really interested in doing much more outreach. People don’t have a clear understanding that people with learning disabilities have at least average, if not higher, thinking abilities, they just have a specific weakness in something like reading or writing or in the field of math and number knowledge or organizational skills. Even though the field has been well established since the 1940s, people still think that when kids struggle with reading, they’re just not trying, or they’re not paying attention. That shouldn’t be happening. Part of our difficulty, or part of our challenge, is to get that kind of information out across the state so that teachers and parents realize that these are weakness that can be worked on and can become not such a learning problem. Our outreach is really something we’re working hard trying to develop.
BP: What challenges do students with learning disabilities experience?
PU: I work with a lot of students who have learning disabilities, and one of their biggest challenges is convincing people that they really are trying and that they really do need to have specialized help. That they really are going to go to college and they are going to be successful, so their disabilities aren’t going to limit them.
BP: How would describe a learning disability to someone who doesn’t have one?
PU: I’d say that, and I do this a lot, that the individual has an intellectual ability of at least average and they have a problem or difficulty in a specific set of skills. Probably the most common learning disability is a reading disability, sometimes called dyslexia. In a reading disability, many times the learner has a really hard time, and not really successful, in linking all those letters with specific sounds, so as a hard as they can try when a regular teacher tries to help them, they need special instruction. So, people with learning disabilities often need to have accommodations, such as having extra time, having things read to them, as well as them reading the material themselves. They also need remediation, and that involves specialized teaching. So, for people with learning disabilities, it’s not that they can’t learn because they have the intellect to learn, but they need to have specialized instruction. Sometimes that involves one-on-one.
By Hannah Tarr
On Payne Street in Louisville, an inconspicuous building stands above the residential buildings it surrounds. This three-story brick building l may not look like much, but inside is a world of theatre magic. This Commonwealth Theatre Center has been a huge part of senior Will DeVary’s life for the past five years.
DeVary has been involved with the Walden Theatre Conservatory at the Commonwealth Theatre Center since January 2013. That was his 7th grade year, and he had just finished A Christmas Story at Actors Theatre of Louisville. He was looking for a place to do theatre and specifically Shakespeare, and a friend in A Christmas Story recommended Walden to him.
The rest is history: “Yeah, I fell in love,” said DeVary.
It is easy to see why DeVary would enjoy Walden. According to DeVary, theatre classes are offered for people as young as three years old up to 18 years old. Younger children are introduced to theatre through improv classes, and high school students get to explore and perform plays at the Commonwealth Theatre Center. In the fall, those older students explore a rotation of playwrights. In the spring, they zero in on Shakespeare for the annual Young American Shakespeare Festival. In fact, Walden was the first theatre conservatory for young people in the world to perform the complete works of Shakespeare, a feat which they achieved last year. When they’re studying a play, Walden students are taught to consider movement, voice, and scene analysis. Students also learn stand up comedy, improv, and other general theatrical skills.
DeVary sums up all of this which Walden has taught him as “everything. Everything about everything.”
But there is one lesson that was never in the curriculum, which DeVary nevertheless considers to be the most important thing he has learned from Walden: the importance of being honest.
“I think the most important thing that it taught me was that it’s more important to fail and be honest than to succeed and not be honest. You know what I mean?” he said. “If you’re not true to yourself, then anything that you have is worthless and meaningless. But if you’re true to yourself, then you can fail, and you can have a glorious catastrophe of a failure, but you were yourself.”
DeVary said this was a difficult lesson for him to learn. He thinks that honesty is the scariest thing in the world, and it only gets worse when you’re onstage being honest for an audience. But thanks to Walden, he was able to strip away everything else and become honest, both in his real life and onstage.
Onstage, he is currently performing in one of the biggest roles possible: Richard III, who has the third most lines in Shakespeare. DeVary finds this role infinitely fascinating.
Richard III is a villain. But DeVary says he isn’t a classic villain. Instead, he frequently addresses the audience, so he makes the audience complicit in his crimes. DeVary’s voice grows even more animated than it usually is when he talks about this unique characteristic of the show.
“He falls in a Machiavellian tradition of hiding himself in public in order to achieve private goals and private ends to become a king,” said DeVary. “But he tells the audience exactly what he wants, always completely truthful with them, which creates one of the most fascinating relationships in all of theatre because the scene partner that he shares the most time with is the audience.”
DeVary said that because his character talks to the audience so much, that makes them complicit in his crimes. Their willingness to be so reveals a lot about human nature.
“He is an incredibly charming devil who makes the audience laugh and really gets the audience on his side, and the audience forgets that he’s doing these really terrible things until it’s too late,” he said. “Which I think is such an incredibly fascinating thing because it shows just how susceptible we are at being controlled by these nefarious populist figures who come in and try to take over.”
The show is an examination of power, and the lengths people go to attain power. Richard III begins the show set on stopping at nothing to win the crown. But he changes throughout the course of the show.
“There’s a wonderful quote that talks about the fact that he is a man who doesn’t have a conscience but gains one throughout the show, which is incredibly interesting to try and play and discover,” said DeVary.
DeVary has been discovering the character of Richard III for a while now. He calls it a role that has haunted him because he has played it before, in Henry VI Part 3. In fact, a scene from Richard III was the first scene he ever did at Walden. And now, it is the last role he ever gets to perform there.
“I haven’t processed it whatsoever,” he said about the fact that this is the end of his time at Walden. He’s done more than twenty shows there, so it’s been a huge part of his life. He’s fallen in love there, had his heart broken there. And between it all, he’s grown as a performer, advancing from bit parts without lines to Richard III.
This fall, DeVary leaves Floyds Knobs to travel to Ithaca College in New York. He can’t believe he’s leaving Walden.
“I’ve felt every conceivable type of emotion there, and it’s really like leaving behind my home,” he said. “So it’s absolutely, incredibly scary and sad, because that place has just really been everything to me.”
But at the same time, he’s looking forward to the future that going off to college is going to give him.
“David Bowie has this wonderful quote where he talks about if you ever want to grow as an artist, you can’t stay in the small end of the pool,” he said, referencing one of his favorite musicians. “You have to put yourself somewhere just a little bit out of your comfort zone and that’s where you grow, so that’s hopefully what I’m doing. Going to the deep end and either sinking or swimming and lord help me, hopefully I’ll learn to swim!”
Thanks to all that DeVary has learned during his years at Walden, he is surely prepared to learn to swim.