Ana Jennings, 46, describes herself as a “geek” in high school. The St. Louis transplant was an honor student growing up in New Orleans and says she never had time to try out for plays back then. At 18, she suffered a spinal cord injury and now uses a wheelchair. But the injury did not affect her strong spirit.
Today, she champions the rights of the disabled and performs as an actress with the St. Louis-based DisAbility Project. The acting troupe operates under the auspices of That Uppity Theatre Company. “Performing gives me a great sense of accomplishment,” says Jennings, who is married and recently celebrated her 20th wedding anniversary. She lives in Kirkwood and has a master’s degree in education, with an emphasis in vocational rehabilitation.
“I enjoy hearing that immediate response from audience members. For me, it’s cathartic. Sometimes they laugh, sometimes they cry, sometimes there are oohs and aahs,” she continues. “You just don’t see a lot of people with disabilities performing on stage. But this opportunity to act and create art has given me the chance to show people that disabilities aren’t all that scary.”
“It’s been a lifeline for me,” she says. “What we do educates and entertains people, which is what, I believe, art should do. I love how it can really get people to think about something in a different way. It’s confrontational, but not in a negative way. It can hit people in the face but more like with a pillow than a brick. It’s one of the best tools around to combat ignorance and to enlighten people.”
“It’s really empowering and I think we’re making a difference,” continues Ana. “It’s unfortunate that people don’t see disability awareness as a priority and budgets have been cut. But it’s important to show people that no problem is insurmountable and there are obstacles in life that we can overcome.”
That Uppity Theatre Company is an Arts and Education Council PNC Project Grant recipient. To learn more visit KeepArtHappening.org/Grante.