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Father taps into theatre and dance for story about special needs son

Andrew Prashad’s days are a carefully choreographed and/or instantly improvised dance taken step-by-step in time with the pitter-patter of little feet, belonging to his three children
Andrew Prashad, the creator and performer in One Step at a Time, with his son Ezra Prashad at a Sick Kids' hospital fundraiser. Contributed photo.

While many parents might consider singing lullabies or TV show tunes to their little ones, one father – and career stage performer – sang his son a song about catheterization.

“It might be the only song ever written about catheterization,” said the dad and songwriter, Andrew Prashad.

He got the idea for the song while trying to put a catheter in his son Ezra - something he has to do every two hours of every day.

“I couldn’t cath him, so I kept talking to him in a sing-songy way, reminding him to relax so I could do it,” said Prashad. Ezra started giggling, and it prompted Prashad to write a song about the moment with his son.

In fact, that song prompted an idea that would become a musical stage production all about Prashad’s life as Ezra’s dad.

At 22 weeks in the womb, Ezra was diagnosed with spina bifida and hydrocephalus.

The spina bifida – a lesion or hole on the spine – means Ezra has no feeling or control of his legs from the knees down. Doctors guessed he would never walk.

Next to his family, one of Prashad’s biggest love is tap dancing.

“Someone said I’m one of the leading tap dance artists in the country,” he said. “I’ll take that.”

He said tap dance is his strongest storytelling medium and one of his biggest passions.

“Both my girls tap dance with me,” said Prashad. “I just assumed I would have that with him.”

But Ezra and Prashad did dance together one day in a park.

Ezra, now 3 years old, wears leg braces and was learning to do some assisted walking with the help of a walker.

“Ezra had just got his walker, and we were at a park where I was dancing on a tree stump. He wanted to come up with me, so I picked him up and he was wobbling back-and-forth, tap dancing in his own way,” said Prashad. The video went viral on the Internet, and was the final push Prashad needed to turn his life with his son into a show he’s called One Step at a Time.

The show is broken into ten “steps” in the life of Ezra and his dad, with Prashad telling the story though monologue, song, and, of course, tap dance.

“I speak the clearest in my tap dance,” said Prashad. “It only made sense, I need to include my movement.”

Yes, the catheterization song is part of the show.

“The show has peaks and valleys,” said Prashad. “The catheterization moment is one of the funner moments … and some of the hardest times of my life have been on this journey.”

Ezra had brain surgery at seven months old to treat his hydrocephalus.

“I had to physically hand him over to the surgeon,” said Prashad. “That was the hardest thing I had to do.”

The show first ran in 2017 at Randolph Theatre in Toronto, and Theatre Collingwood is bringing it to town in April.

“I think my favourite thing about the show is the audiences,” said Prashad, adding he’s heard from people from the special needs community who have seen the show.

During one show, a man whose grandchild had special needs similar to Ezra’s was overwhelmed by emotion from start to finish.

“He was crying through the whole show, it just meant so much to him,” said Prashad. “During the funny parts, he was laughing and crying.”

One man with cerebral palsy came to the show. He was a university student hoping to do his major in drama. He waited to speak with Prashad after the show to tell him how it moved him.

“I know about representation and how representation matters,” said Prashad, whose background from Guyana gets him classified as a Southeast Asian in the industry. “I know what it’s like to grow up and not see anybody who looks like you, and as you get older the only people who look like you [in entertainment] are disgusting stereotypes … When they’re watching my show, I’m taking them back 15 years, they’re seeing their parents in me, or they’re going through it right now. They’re seeing their life, or something that resembles their life, on stage.”

Prashad gives credit to his director, Scott Hurst, who helped him pare down the giant draft into story crafted for connection.

“One of the things a reviewer said was in the wrong hands, this show could be a real downer, in which case, it wouldn’t really reach people,” said Prashad.

Prashad’s wife and daughters have seen the show, but Ezra hasn’t yet. Prashad said he needs to be older before he does.

“I’m really curious what he’s going to think,” said Prashad.

Since getting his walker, Ezra has taken several “unassisted” steps using only his leg braces for support and protection. Dad, Prashad, is hoping to train Ezra to cath himself by Grade 1, and maybe the training process will bring inspiration for more songs about catheterization.

One Step at a Time comes to the Simcoe Street Theatre on April 4 and 5 with evening shows on both days at 8 p.m. Click here to buy tickets.

Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter, photographer and community editor.
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