Tualatin resident Chad Bode has had a part in every theatrical production that PHAME has produced over the past 15 years, including roles in 'Carousel, 'Les Misérables' and 'Fiddler on the Roof.' Now, Bode and other students of the fine and performing arts academy for special needs adults is preparing for its first-ever regional tour.
The mission of PHAME - Pacific Honored Artists, Musicians and Entertainers - is to to nurture skills and self-esteem in adults with development disabilities through education and participation in fine and performing arts.
Members of the organization want everyone to know that the 'H' in PHAME stands for 'honored.'
'The reason we don't use the word 'handicap,' but we use the word 'honor,' is we don't want to look at that picture; we want to honor everyone, and it's always a solution,' Bode said.
The group of actors and singers will tour a number of local venues next month singing classic songs like 'What a Wonderful World' and 'Joy to the World' and performing skits and improve acts based on folk tales.
Touring 'backyard communities'
Bode's developmental disability is the result of a rare condition that prevents his body from breaking down proteins naturally. The condition had started to take a toll on his body and brain for a year before he was diagnosed as an infant.
'The condition is so rare, he was the first case west of the Mississippi at the time,' Bode's mother Betty said. 'He doesn't look it, but he's very medically fragile. Little things like a cold or a flu, stress, bad nutrition, not enough rest, can make him very ill.'
However, that doesn't prevent Bode from spending all his free time performing.
PHAME's first regional tour, beginning March 14, will bring an assortment of short performances in theater, comedy and music to stages throughout the greater Portland area. All events are free, except for the last performance, held at the Aladdin Theater on March 22 - tickets are $15 for the culminating tour showcase.
'We are very purposefully constructing this as a tour of what we call our 'backyard communities,'' said PHAME Executive Director Stephen Marc Beaudoin of local performances in Portland, Beaverton and Estacada. 'We still have a lot of work to do to get (our) message out there and showcase the inspiration of our students. Who knows, maybe it could be a statewide initiative eventually - or national, even international. Maybe we could to Vegas.'
Beaudoin directed this last comment at Bode, which elicits a smile, as Bode spent his 40th birthday party in Las Vegas.
'I'm pretty sure you talked about it for six months before the trip, and then for another six months after the trip,' Beaudoin told him.
Bode, now 41, has lived in Tualatin with his family for the past 18 years.
Bode's first PHAME production was the musical 'Annie,' in which he played the butler. Since then he has taken on every role from Vince Fontaine in 'Grease' to the Pirate King in 'Pirates of Penzance.' Bode's only experience with public performance prior to joining the academy was through an improvisational comedy class in high school.
'When he started, it was exciting,' Betty said. 'I will say that watching him in that first play was a lot of fun. He was very nervous - well, I was, actually. But it was just perfect for him.'
Eager for recognition
Of the 100 or so PHAME students, 48 are participating in the tour. Bode will sing and act in the Portland show on Wednesday, March 14; in Beaverton on Monday, March 19; and during the final performance at the Aladdin Theater on Thursday, March 22. Audience members will be able to participate in a Q and A session with the performers following each performance in the upcoming tour.
'Unfortunately, for many people, if they think about adults with developmental disabilities at all, they think either about the hardship they're going through or when they're in the news,' Beaudoin said, 'They don't think about them in terms of what they have to offer, the talent they have and the inspiration they have to give, which is remarkable.
'We serve an enormous range of types of individuals at PHAME, from very high-functioning persons with some savant-like capabilities that live independently and may have a part-time job, to people at the other end of the spectrum and everywhere in between. But frankly, once they come to PHAME, that really takes a backseat to what their abilities are and what they can bring to PHAME.'
PHAME was founded in 1984 by Carol Stady. Though Stady retired in 2008, those who now shoulder the responsibility of running the program are determined to take it to new heights.
'Obviously, we all stand on her shoulders today,' Beaudoin said. 'It took a visionary to create it and get it off the ground, and since then we've really discovered that the heart of PHAME is the students - their talents and what they bring - which is unique and singular and remarkable.'
Beaudoin shared some of PHAME's current vision, which includes collaborating with various other organizations that offer support to the developmentally disabled community.
'It's been an incredible time, since (Stady's) retirement, to really develop the organization and move it from one led by a visionary volunteer founder to one that's professionally staffed; that has some real accountability and transparency to the community and that has a vision for our own future in the community, in Portland and beyond,' Beaudoin said. 'I think this tour is one indication of how much we've grown.'
Bode said he is eager to get PHAME some recognition in Portland and the surrounding areas.
'Audiences really give us a standing ovation, really see the big picture, because they really do enjoy seeing us and saying, 'Oh, we love that,'' Bode said. 'We want to send a message for what PHAME really stands for, we want to tell a story, and we want to be able to direct everybody, and that's why we're here to share it.
'We want to make PHAME broadened, and that's why we're here to shine.'