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Ann Marie Morelli
My dance with MS began quite oddly, in 1977 when, as a child, I would harass my neighbors by raising donations for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. During that time, it wasn’t uncommon for people to go door-to-door collecting donations for various charities. In my neighborhood, everyone collected for either the March of Dimes or “Jerry’s Kids” (Muscular Dystrophy). I wanted to be different and at the ripe age of 9 years old, I first learned about the devastating effects of multiple sclerosis. I never could have imagined at the time, as I bugged friends and neighbors to donate for MS, that I would eventually become one of its casualties.
I was officially diagnosed with Relapsing-Remitting MS in 1995, but I first began experiencing symptoms in 1988 during my sophomore year at Marywood University in Pennsylvania. I was a theater student and we were in rehearsals for our fall production of THE CRUCIBLE when I developed Optic Neuritis. In hindsight, The irony of performing Arthur Miller’s classic play at the same time I was to begin my own personal crucible with MS is not lost.
Several years later, in 1992, after returning from studies at the Royal National Theatre in London, and experiencing pronounced “foot drop,” a general weakness in my right leg and difficulty with balance, I finally began seeing a neurologist on a regular basis on a quest to ultimately be given the “official” diagnosis in 1995.
It has been 24 years since I was officially diagnosed and over 30 years since I first began my dance with this disease — and I continue on.
I’m now in a wheelchair full-time and my MS has advanced from relapsing-remitting to secondary progressive. But this disease is just one aspect of my life and does not define who I am. I am also an actor, director, stage manager and administrator with Theater Breaking Through Barriers (TBTB), New York’s only professional Off-Broadway theater company dedicated to advancing the work of disabled arts professionals. Currently, I am directing a short play for our next workshop, TBTB’s 2019 PLAYMAKERS’ REDUX, which we will be presenting from March 21 - 24 at the Studio Theatre on Theatre Row. Following our workshop festival, I will begin rehearsals for a new play that we will be performing at the United Nations 2019 International Disaster Risk Reduction Global Platform in Geneva, Switzerland. When we return from Switzerland, we will prepare for the opening of our next Off-Broadway production: The world premiere of PUBLIC SERVANT, a new play commissioned by TBTB and written for us by award-winning playwright and writer/executive Producer of NBC’s hit TV show THIS IS US, Bekah Brunstetter.
I am a very proud member of the IMSMP family and am deeply grateful to everyone here for your support, your resilience, and your strength. If you wish to learn more about our theater or want to see one of our shows, please check us out at www.tbtb.org.