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Holy magic

Famous PEOPLE Players continues to light up the stage

By Carolyn Pogue

They said it couldn’t be done, so she did it. Diane Dupuy says that her life has been magic; she knows a lot about that.

I first met Diane, founder of the black light theatre company Famous PEOPLE Players (FPP), when the troupe came to Yellowknife to help open the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre in 1984. We loved their show so much that the performers, all of whom had developmental disabilities, returned a few months later. That weekend, we celebrated Thanksgiving with a community feast in their honour. There was much to be thankful for — like the exuberance of young adults living lives no one could have imagined possible. The FPP story is more unbelievable than the whimsical giant puppets that perform on stage.

In the 1970s, Diane dreamed of combining her love of puppetry with her determination to work with developmentally disabled people. She was also a fan of the late, great entertainer Liberace. She believed that if she could create a black light show featuring his recorded music, with a giant Liberace puppet and dancing piano, he might be enticed to see it when he came to Toronto. And then (why not?), maybe he would take the performers to Las Vegas. It seemed that no one except Diane’s mother, artist Mary Thornton, and God believed it possible. But it happened. In October 1975, FPP opened for Liberace on a Las Vegas stage. The rest is a 30-year love story between the performers and audiences worldwide.

Diane’s book Daring to Dream relates stories about entertainers and others who helped along the way. Interesting (and funny) conversations with God are threaded through the narrative.

Today, FPP still tours worldwide and has its own dinner theatre in Toronto. Last week, my daughter Sarah, granddaughter Kate and I saw the group’s new show, Funkyland. I didn’t know if Diane would be there or remember me. She was, and she did. “Who could forget that Thanksgiving in Yellowknife?”

In addition to performing, the company serves dinner to theatre guests before the show. I recognized our maître d’, Benny D’Onofrio. We’d danced all those years ago at our after-dinner party. Shy Benny has become a handsome silver-haired gentleman with a ready smile and gracious manner.

It’s difficult to believe what goes into this professional company. Diane didn’t “merely” create a show that performed on Broadway; there were life skills to teach, too. Banking, reading, writing, hygiene, romance etiquette and managing behaviours. It’s truly miraculous that someone like Renato, for example, became a performer. When Diane met him, he’d never ridden public transit, rarely spoke and wore a scarf pulled up and a hat pulled down to hide his disfigured face. Yet, when CTV made a drama called Special People, Renato played himself in it.

It feels magical being with people who realize their dreams. Seize any opportunity to meet this amazing company. Last week Diane said, “Working with the performers has made me forget about myself, so that I could become myself.” That’s real magic.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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