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Eddie Barbanell: Actor, Advocate
From Comedy Central's "Workaholics" to Three Bone Theatre's "Andy & the Orphans," Eddie Barbanell is a man on a mission.
Advocacy is at the heart of Three Bone Theatre’s current production.
Andy & the Orphans, a profound family drama about a man with Down syndrome, uses the comedy and drama of family relationships as a context for its central message: the world underestimates the identities and capabilities of folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
The earnest cast of Andy & the Orphans is led by veteran actor Eddie Barbanell, who got his break acting opposite Johnny Knoxville in The Ringer. He has since enjoyed roles in multiple films and television shows such as Hall Pass, Loudermilk, and Workaholics. Barbanell, who was born with Down syndrome, is an activist who speaks all over the world on behalf of the Special Olympics and Best Buddies International.
At Pepperbox Donuts in NoDa alongside Andy director Danielle Melendez and Three Bone’s artistic and operations director Robin Tynes-Miller, Barbanell spoke passionately about his purpose. For him, the show is a vehicle for advocacy.
“I want to bring the message across to people that when they come see a play like this, it is to understand us more, to learn from us,” said Barbanell. “Use this teaching tool to bring [the conversation] into your community. It’s emotional, poignant, touching.”
“At the end of the day, come see us. Come see me with a different ability. Don’t see me as an object. See me as a person. Don’t judge me on the outside. Judge me on the inside of my heart.” - Eddie Barbanell
Barbanell has starred in this play in Boca Raton and in its debut off-Broadway, where he shared the role with American Horror Story actor Jamie Brewer (when Brewer leads, the show is called Amy & the Orphans). It is a role which affords him a unique opportunity to raise the visibility of people with IDD. “We need to put people in the mainstream. The mainstream of life,” he insists, punctuating his point with a tap on the table.
Director Danielle Melendez did not come into this project cold. At Redhouse Arts Center in Syracuse, she partnered with Arc of Onondaga to run workshops and mount mainstage productions for individuals with IDD. She said that the message and mission of this play is about “breaking that mental block – those who are interested should be allowed at the table at any level.”
There is a clear takeaway from spending time with Eddie Barbanell: the distance we keep from folks with different abilities is the only obstacle to relating to them. Barbanell is frustrated by the idea of being treated unlike others, and Melendez leads with this attitude. “I didn’t direct [Andy & the Orphans] any differently because Eddie’s in it,” she said. “Yes, I would love to see more works where there are characters written in that are different. But I would call Eddie if I had a role for Eddie, regardless of what show I was doing.”
Three Bone Theatre strives to offer audiences a new perspective. The way Tynes-Miller curates their season is a clear illustration of this goal, but sitting in the house theatergoers see a deeper mission fulfilled. Plays from this season like Sanctuary City, The Chinese Lady, The Glorious World of Crowns, Kinks, and Curls, and Andy & the Orphans honor the complexity of their subjects rather than making tokens of them. They reflect reality and cultivate empathy. At Three Bone, audiences will feel seen in a way they have not before, or they will gain a view into lives of people they had never known.
Barbanell’s mission aligns with the work done at Three Bone Theatre. “At the end of the day, come see us. Come see me with a different ability. Don’t see me as an object. See me as a person. Don’t judge me on the outside. Judge me on the inside of my heart.”
Andy & the Orphans continues its run tonight through Saturday.
Andy & the Orphans
Three Bone Theatre at the Arts Factory at West End Studios
1545 W Trade Street, Charlotte, NC
February 23-25 at 8PM
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