Three Questions With Scenic Designer Patrick Brennan


Three Questions With Scenic Designer Patrick Brennan


Author: Mac MacDaniel

To mark the occasion of Disability Pride Month and ADA Day on July 26th – the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) being signed into law – Shakespeare & Company learned more about Patrick Brennan, scenic designer and props manager. Read on…

S&Co: What do you do at Shakespeare & Company and how long have you been a part of the company?

Patrick Brennan: I have worked at Shakespeare & Company on and off for almost 30 years. I am Props Manager and a set designer.

S&Co: Can you tell us about your condition and how it has affected your life and work?

Patrick Brennan: My condition is called a syrinx. It presents as a build up of fluid inside the vertebrae of the spinal cord — sort of like a balloon continually filling up with water, getting bigger and bigger, with no outlet. The fluid essentially crushed the nerves in my spinal cord against the bone.

The entire left side of my body started shutting down: eye, arm, hand, lung, leg. I had no feeling on the left side of my body, my vision was not right, I did not have the strength in my left arm or hand to pick up a cup of coffee, I couldn’t really breathe enough and I kept stumbling as I walked. It took several months to diagnose. When the doctors finally figured out what it was I had three days to shut down my life and prepare for surgery. It was a bit urgent.

When I came out of the surgery the doctor told my sister I would never walk again. (I was never told. I think if I had been told I would be in a wheelchair to this day). I was in rehab for several months. I had NO control of my body from the waist down. Eventually my right leg came back to life, but I would sit in bed for hours, days, willing my left leg to at least bend at the knee. Eventually, it did.

When I left rehab I had a wheelchair, a walker, and a cane. I dispensed with the wheelchair and walker pretty quickly and hobbled around the mean streets of Philadelphia with my cane. No harm ever came to me.

I was managing a small business at the time. I was welcomed back to work but, since I could not do the job I was hired for, which involved a lot of physical labor, I had to take a huge pay cut and was relegated to small, marginally-useful or purposeful tasks.

A little bleak? Maybe. But what the universe showed me then, and continues to show me to this day is that there is still so much love, compassion, kindness, generosity, understanding, patience, and respect in the world. I have been so well cared for by people I know, and by people I don’t know. I have been dumbfounded by the kindness of strangers. I feel profound love and gratitude every day — every single day — for the people who are close to me, who care for me.

I didn’t feel I could sustain the life I led in Philadelphia. I had two options: I could move back to California and live with a member of my family, or I could go back to my other family, Shakespeare & Company, and try my luck. I chose the latter.

I returned and found so many of the people I knew from those halcyon days at The Mount, back in the ‘90s, still fighting the good fight and I was welcomed back. Lucky me.

Some people might think I am an unlucky person because I am disabled. I think I am very lucky. I have seen people at their very best. I have been given the knowledge that in spite of how bad the world can be, at the end of the day, most people are, at their foundation, fundamentally good. I feel lucky to be reminded of this every day.

S&Co: What is the most exciting project you’ve worked on recently?

Patrick Brennan: I don’t know. I just finished a week of tech. I’m exhausted. Lately I get excited if I remember to leave the house with pants on. It’s all exciting. It’s all fun. I am grateful to be here.

This interview is part of Shakespeare & Company’s #LiveinCompany social media campaign, an extension of its mission to live creatively, work collaboratively, and honor community. #LiveinCompany content highlights the words and work of visionaries in various disciplines and aims to answer the three questions at the heart of each of Shakespeare’s plays: What does it mean to be alive? How should we act? and What must I do?


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