Frank Higgins has had close to a dozen plays produced.
And he hasn't finished writing any of them, including "Miracles," which Invisible Theatre opens next week.
"If I'm alive, each play is a play in progress," he says with a laugh.
"It's one of the beauties of playwriting. If you make film, the strengths and weaknesses don't change. With theater, if the culture changes, or something more needs to be said, the play can be adjusted."
Higgins first penned "Miracles" in 1997. Though he's made some changes since then, he hasn't turned his attention to the script for some time.
Enter Susan Claassen, director of the IT production.
She liked the play; she wanted changes.
"They were changes that moved the piece along," Claassen says.
"It's just modulating what he has."
Higgins was game.
"With 'Miracles,' it's more a case of nipping and tucking," he says, speaking from his home in Kansas City, Mo., where he teaches playwriting at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
"If someone has ideas that intrigue me, then I'm all up for, 'Let's see what it looks like.' "
When Higgins is intrigued, he acts.
Take, for instance, what led him to write "Miracles" back in the 1990s.
At the time, "facilitated communications" was a hot topic.
Basically, it is a method that was thought to allow autistics to "speak" with the assistance of a facilitator who holds the autistic student's elbow to steady the arm while the student types messages on a keyboard with one finger.
It was hailed as a breakthrough, allowing those who can't speak a way to express their feelings and ideas. It quickly became controversial, and still is.
"I saw a couple of documentaries that had to do with facilitated communications and working with autistic kids," Higgins recalls.
"The documentaries were blowing the lid off facilitated communications. . . . There were these teachers who had taught kids for years. One who stuck in my mind had worked with a student and had excellent results."
Follow-up tests of the student showed that the answers were coming unconsciously from the teacher, who gently guided the student's hand to the correct letter to type a response.
"The teacher thought she had this relationship with this young person, and she'd have these two-way conversations with her," Higgins said.
"The teacher was devastated. She said it means, 'I've been having a conversation with myself.' "
Higgins was fascinated by this concept of who was really the "voice" for the person with autism, and his fascination gave birth to "Miracles."
It is about a teen who has been institutionalized for several years. Her teacher, who uses facilitated communications, claims the teen, Eve, is a powerful poet. She summons Eve's father to the school to get his permission to publish Eve's book of poems.
"I was interested in how we perceive people," Higgins says.
"The father perceived her to be one way years ago, and he decides to put her in an institution. Then, a few years later, he has to come to terms with his daughter as being bright and articulate."
At first, Higgins just thought the topic interesting. Then he became hooked on what was beyond the topic.
"What makes this play stick out for me is the idea about identity - who are you and who defines that," he says.
Which isn't exactly what made the play stick out for Claassen.
"It's about faith, and how much can we effect change by believing in something," she says.
"Can we evolve to the point where we can accept people for who they are rather than who we want them to be?"
If you go
• Presented by: Invisible Theatre.
• Playwright: Frank Higgins.
• Director: Susan Claassen.
• When: Previews 7:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; opens 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Regular performances are 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 20. No performance Feb. 5, and an additional one at 3 p.m. Feb. 12.
• Where: Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave.
• Tickets: Monday preview is Pay What You Can; Tuesday preview, $18. Regular performances, $25. Half-price tickets one-half hour before curtain, subject to availability.
• Reservations, information: 882-9721.
• Running time: two hours, with one intermission.
• Cast: James Blair, Betsy Kruse Craig and Rachel Lacy.
Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4128.