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Don't Stop Believing: lessons from my adult students

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At the party!"I think, I think, that we should end it with, with a party.”

J.T. Is the last one to make a suggestion about how our movie should end. This is the third session of “Theatre 101”, an open workshop for adults with a range of developmental challenges, and our group has grown to 10 counting myself, the Coordinator of Recreation Programs for Individuals with Disabilities, and the Specialist in Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities.

Although I have worked with folks with various challenges and disabilities all my life, this is a pilot project with this particular organization. The Coordinator and myself weren't sure this workshop would fly, especially since we had only two participants on our first day, and those two brave souls were so very apprehensive.

But the opportunity to have an individual voice, and to, as a group, bring to life a story that never existed before is so exciting and wondrous and powerful that people – all people -- are drawn to it. I never cease to be awed by the creativity and joy that comes pouring out of people who not normally perceive themselves as artists.

For the first two sessions, we created and performed scenes and bits inside classic theatre exercise frameworks, and talked about the scenes using Visual Thinking Strategies-type questions and lots of support. During our second session, the group decided to make a movie.

As with any group, we have been exploring the meaning and importance of 'Who', 'What', and 'Where',Practicing! with emphasis on performing the answer to the question, “How does the audience know?” Once the group decided to make a movie, we applied those questions to a brainstorming session of ideas, which included a haunted house, various spooky beings, the idea of fear and friendship, and the need for lots of songs. It was certainly fun and fabulous, but not mind-blowing.

That is, not until the third session. After our warm-up and acting exercise, we begin to lay out an outline, with me just asking questions. The group decides that the movie begins with a character in her room, dancing to Monster Mash. She is afraid of monsters, so when witches and a bat and a cat and Wolfman come into her room to dance and have scary fun, she screams and runs away. The monsters are left on stage to wonder what happened and call after her, “We didn't mean to scare you!” They are then all at a baseball game (as players who sing Take Me out to the Ball Game), and the first character is uneasy, then freaks out again, so the spooky characters have a meeting to talk about it (and sing a piece from Friendship from Anything Goes). Then what? How does it end? A party. A party to which the first character has been invited, and they sing Don't Stop Believing, and the first character realizes that it's all okay and they should be friends.

Then the group casts themselves and casts me, although I had not planned on performing, and resisted doing anything more than a small supportive role. But the group was insistent and unanimous in their decision—I was to play the person who had only liminal experience with monsters and was afraid, not realizing that monsters are wonderful, fun, loving people until the party, where I join them in singing Don't Stop Believing.

Holy metaphor, Batman.

So we make the movie, film and project it during session 4, just using “photobooth” on my laptop, and it is awesome. I cannot share the movie with you, as a few of the folks had signed “Do not share my likeness” forms, but I can share with you that they all requested another series of workshops.

I can't wait.

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