Mother hopes film about son’s breakthrough will inspire others

Chris Mueller-Medlicott joined a unique Durham theater group in 2005 and had a breakthrough.

Director Richard Reho had created what he called The Community Inclusive Theater Project, and he invited the young man with cerebral palsy to take part in a theater production. The experience brought Mueller-Medlicott new friends and a new voice in the form of an assisted typing method that helped him communicate.

“In the context of the theater group, he just blossomed and he found a way to communicate,” says his mother, Polly Medlicott. “It was just an amazing experience for him in what turned out to be the last year of his life.”

Mueller-Medlicott died of pneumonia in 2006. He was 21. The loss was devastating for his mother, who had devoted her life to him. Though a few years have passed, Polly Medlicott, who lives in Barnardsville, remains devoted to her son and has a new mission. She’s taking a documentary about him on the road in the hope of dispelling assumptions about people with disabilities, as well as the desire to see other inclusive theater projects spring up.

“A New Kind of Listening” by Durham filmmaker Kenny Dalsheimer focuses on Mueller-Medlicott’s story and the theater project, which underlines the idea that arts can help people of all abilities express themselves. Medlicott is a co-producer of the film.

“What we want to do with the film is to use the film to inform, inspire and encourage inclusive community arts to happen,” Medlicott says.

“Without any money or any particular set of resources, we created these amazing relationships. Disabled and non-disabled people found a way to be creative as a community and find their voices and express themselves,” Medlicott syas. “This is the sort of thing that could happen anywhere.”

With the movie tagline “Speechless does not equal mindless,” Medlicott says she also wants to underscore the fact that just because someone may not be able to communicate easily doesn’t mean they don’t understand what’s happening around them. “In disability world, you need to presume competence. You assume that they are in there and that they understand a lot more than you think.”

“A New Kind of Listening” will be screened at 7 p.m. on March 7 at Jubilee! Community Church in downtown Asheville. The screening is free and open to the public.

From 7-9 p.m. on March 8, the church will host a workshop, “Connecting Authentically to People Who Live with Disability.” Medlicott says the workshop will offer a chance for people to explore feelings of fear “or whatever else it is that keeps them from connecting with people of disabilities.” There’s a suggested donation of $10 for the workshop. Register by contacting Medlicott at medlicottpolly@yahoo.com.

Medlicott says she’s excited about telling her son’s story and seeing arts projects spring up. Already in Asheville “something interesting is happening” after she helped pull together people from local churches, theater groups and advocacy groups.

There may be a series of improv activities to get things started and by the time of the screening, she says, and “hopefully we’ll announce the next steps for the Asheville Inclusive Theater Project.”

See the movie trailer below:

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor

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