The show’s creators also added detail and texture to the novel’s explanation of the condition. A dyslexic teacher Krieger consulted described it as like trying to extract information from mental filing cabinets, but selecting it in the wrong order. That analogy went into the script.
So did up-to-date tools for dyslexic students, which the show’s dramaturge, Taylor Janney-Rovin, an educator who instructs dyslexic children at Valence College Prep, in Queens, suggested. Mr. Daniels, whose help Ally finally agrees to accept, introduces Ally — and the audience — to multisensory techniques for children with learning disabilities. These include skywriting — writing letters large in the air — and drawing words in shaving cream.
Krieger continued to modify her script drafts in response to internal feedback. (In the cast, creative team, company management and staff, there are seven people with disabilities.) She had invented an encouraging statement from Ally’s grandfather, “Anything is possible if you try hard enough.” Lipman, who is on the autism spectrum and has an auditory processing disorder, objected to this wording for its implied burden on those in similar circumstances. Krieger rewrote the line as “Many things are possible if you believe in yourself.”
Lipman approved the revision. “The biggest moment for me is when Ally’s like, ‘So there’s a reason why I can’t read,’” she said. Her character realizes that her classmates have an advantage, Lipman added, and “it’s just that I didn’t get that piece that they all got.”
The play, however, is not intended just for young people with disabilities. Its examination of bullying, friendship and sibling bonds is geared toward a larger audience, as is its wide embrace of creativity.
The company’s hope, Jessel said, is that “children walk away from the story interested to explore their own imaginations.”
Fish in a Tree
Through April 9 at Theater Row, Manhattan; nycchildrenstheater.org. Running time: 1 hour.