‘Frank Steins’ Addresses Disability and Diversity

Agustin A. Rodriguez Lopez ’18 sits slumped, hands and feet dangling from the chair in the middle of the SOCH penthouse. He will play Frank Steins, a man with severe physical impairments, in the upcoming production by the same name presented by Harvard College TEATRO! For writer and director Brandon Martinez ’20, “Frank Steins” is a particularly meaningful piece. Not only does his forthcoming play aim to diversify Harvard’s theater scene, but it also aspires to accurately represent those struggling with physical disabilities.

With “Frank Steins,” Martinez will debut as a theater director on campus. He brings to the table personally significant subject matter: In what would become inspiration for his script, Martinez worked in a camp for individuals with disabilities. “People not only cared for one another but embraced who they were,” said Martinez. Deeply touched by his experience and newly committed to bringing people together around physical and mental healing, the director hopes to help the disabled to accept themselves but also to highlight that the physically impaired think and feel no different from everyone else.

Martinez presents a novel approach to doing so: Frank Steins’ physical and mental presences on stage are distinct, played by two different actors. While Rodriguez depicts the physical actions and reactions of Steins as he interacts with the world around him, Janiah Lockett ’20 portrays his mind. Especially important is Lockett depiction of Steins’ mind as one that everyone can identify with: indecisive, over-thinking, and sporadic.

The production also took meticulous care in factually portraying a patient with muscular dystrophy, as physically able bodied actors playing disabled people could be problematic. Martinez brought in a choreographer to work with Rodriguez on his posture and mannerisms. “Every movement I do becomes very, very deliberate and very purposeful,” said Rodriguez.

While the theater world as a whole is making strides toward increased diversity of race and sexuality, the disabled community has continued to be considerably underrepresented. When addressing the intent of “Frank Steins,” producer Mason Sands ’20 said, “Seeing how it supports the overall goal of diversity in theater is what drew me to the project.”

“Frank Steins” will run in the Loeb Experimental Theater from Nov. 9 until Nov. 12.

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