While gazing out the window, back in her Grade 1 class, Diane Dupuy imagined herself as a heroic character – the Lone Ranger, riding off into the sunset on his horse named Silver.
“People often told me that I wouldn’t amount to anything,” she said. “My imagination helped me discover a whole new world, one where I belonged.”
Dupuy was never good in school and was often bullied. Her imagination helped her to dream big. In 1974, she founded her own theatre company called the Famous People Players (FPP).
The Toronto-based not for profit troupe specializes in black-light puppet productions. The company gives individuals who are developmentally challenged an opportunity to perform on stage and work behind the scenes.
“What’s great is that they aren’t recognized for their disabilities; they are recognized for their talents,” she said.
After 35 years as FPP’s creator and artistic director, showcasing an array of show business legends, Dupuy is now sharing her own story with audiences.
The latest production is called “Hi Ho Silver,” a homage to her imaginary friend. Director J.D. Ibay said that the performance showcases Dupuy’s ability to inspire people to never give up.
“A lot of the people who work here (at FPP) have learned responsibility and some are now living independently,” he said. “It’s because (Diane) believed in them.”
Dupuy wasn’t always an advocate for the developmentally challenged. In “Hi Ho Silver,” she recalled a time when she was asked to perform her one-woman puppet show for them. At first she refused, but eventually gave in. The decision changed her life forever.
“I realized that they’re people, just like you and I. They deserved a chance at showcasing their abilities,” she said. “So, I put those same kids that were there that day on stage.”
Famous People Players hasn’t always been a theatrical and box-office hit. In “Hi Ho Silver” she recalled a time when she ambitiously tried to send her troupe to Broadway to get better exposure.
“We needed to raise $1 million to get there, so we tried to sell buttons across Canada,” she said. “Paul Newman got word of our efforts and sent a check for $40 thousand. We were on our way to Broadway.”
Though FPP is now international known, Dupuy said she still faces obstacles to funding. Recently, the company moved to a new facility in Etobicoke. The downturn in the economy as well as rising construction costs have left them almost $500,000 in debt.
In an attempt to avoid bankruptcy, Dupuy reached out to the community for support. With its help, FPP is still alive and Dupuy isn’t about to back down. “Hi Ho Silver” runs at its Etobicoke location (on Evans Avenue) through the end of April.