“It’s sort of a stereotype that people with disabilities bowl a lot,” says Emily Anderson, director of creative performance and cultural access at VSA Vermont. “Mark says, ‘We’re moving beyond the ‘R’ word, but we’re not giving up bowling! A lot of joy takes place under the auspices of this much-joked-about institution.’”
“Mark” is Mark Utter, and his comments resulted from Supported Typing, a facilitated-communication technique in which Anderson is trained that enables 48-year-old Utter, who has a form of autism and is nonverbal, to express himself. (The “R” word? Guess.) Now Utter, who began typing in his early thirties, has written a screenplay for a 30-minute film about what it’s like to be him. “I Am in Here” will premiere on March 16 at the Main Street Landing Film House, followed by a “talk-back” with Utter.
But first, there is bowling. That is, a bowl-a-thon fundraiser this Sunday at Champlain Lanes in Shelburne; proceeds will help Utter take his show on tour to film fests and communication conferences. The fundraiser was Mike Longe’s idea, says Anderson. The Champlain Lanes owner knows Utter — who bowls twice a week and shot a scene in his movie there — and was inspired by his story, Anderson explains.
To participate, players must raise $100 each. “If they raise $250, they get a T-shirt,” Anderson adds. Individuals can show up at the bowling alley, but for teams of four that want to reserve a lane, it will be easier if they do it ahead of time, she suggests.
The bowl-a-thon is one of several smaller fundraisers for Utter’s project. Anderson says some $35,000 have been raised toward a target budget of 50 grand. That’s a lot of bowling. Of course, Anderson points out, “people can also just go to our VSA website” and donate.
If creating “I Am in Here” is sweet for Utter, it is as well for Anderson. She’s worked with Utter for a long time and is responsible for bringing him out of his silence. “About 15 years ago, when Mark was in a class and couldn’t contribute to a play we were writing, I asked him if he wanted to try writing (typing), and he said yes,” she recalls. “He wrote really sweet lines for a play that my theater company still performs to this day.” (Anderson is director of Awareness Theater Company, which works with people with disabilities.)
As for the film, which Anderson produced and codirected with Jim Heltz of Green Mountain Video, it has a cast of 63, including Vermont actors Paul Schnabel and Rusty DeWees. “We saw it yesterday,” Anderson says. “I think it’s a beautiful piece of work.” With a day-in-the-life structure, the movie “uses humor to highlight the contrast between people’s perceptions of Mark and the intelligent man trapped inside,” she says.
“I Am in Here” Bowl-a-Thon: Sunday, March 10, 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Champlain Lanes, Shelburne. $100. To register as a bowler or make a donation, visit vsavt.org. Premiere of “I Am in Here,” Saturday, March 16, 7 to 9 p.m. at the Main Street Landing Film House, Burlington. Donations. For more info about Mark Utter, read Ken Picard’s Seven Days cover story (“Utterly Mark”) from last April.