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Faculty Pub Night with Greg Ruzzin: What You Missed

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Photo of GraceToday’s post was written by library student ambassador Grace Smith. Grace is a first year graduate student in the Writing and Producing for Television MFA program. Grace has been working as a library ambassador for one semester. She loves comedy and dogs.

An enthralling speaker captivated the audience of faculty, staff, and students of Loyola Marymount University. Greg Ruzzin, associate dean of the School of Film and Television, along with faculty members, Rebecca Herr-Stephenson and Brian Kotowski and a special video message from the Director of the Special Education Program at LMU, Victoria Graf, gave a fascinating presentation about a topic they are passionate about: The Magic Chair.

But what is The Magic Chair? The answer, it seems, is more complicated than you would assume. It began as a documentary film, but has evolved into something so much more than that. For Graf, it began back in 2009 as a chance encounter with a very special school in Dublin, Ireland: St. Declan’s. St. Declan’s is a primary school for children with cognitive or developmental disabilities. The school prepares its children to succeed in a mainstream school environment and gives them a safe place to learn and explore. It is also the home of the original magic chair, a place where the children can go to calm down, collect themselves, or simply have a moment in peace. “This story has to be told,” was Graf’s immediate thought. But how?

That answer was found at a screening of Ruzzin’s first documentary film, Lost Child, about his sister, who also has a cognitive disability, and their relationship. Graf brought Ruzzin in on the project, and he got his first opportunity to visit St. Declan’s in 2011. When he first entered the school, he “felt a movement.” He agreed that the story begged to be told.

But telling the story took longer than they thought. Because of an international location and the time it took to get all the parents on board, it took 18 months to get a camera in the school. But, in that time, and during the filmmaking process, the larger transmedia project was born. Rebecca Herr-Stephenson defined what transmedia means, which is to “tell a story in pieces across many platforms.”

At the beginning of the presentation, Ruzzin showed a short film which revealed that 1 in 7 people in the world have a disability. With these staggering statistics in mind, it isn’t hard to see why the goal of The Magic Chair is for people with disabilities to be able to tell their stories. Their guiding motto is “nothing about us without us.” The documentary film about St. Declan’s is only the beginning of a much larger movement. The children at this school are telling their stories, but the Magic Chair team want to provide a platform for many people with disabilities to do the same.

After the presentation, I asked Greg Ruzzin what he would like for people’s biggest take away from the film, and the project as a whole, to be. His response was “the other is we.” When I asked him to expand on this, he explained that we tend to see people with disabilities as “other,” but this could not be further from the truth. But how do we correct this? According to Ruzzin, the solution is to tell the stories of people with disabilities, learn about the world we live in, and, most importantly, listen carefully.

The Magic Chair Transmedia Project officially launches in January of 2018, and more information can be found at The Magic Chair website.

Thank you for telling us about what we missed, Grace!

Greg Ruzzin at Faculty Pub Night