Theater camp gives disabled kids a moment in the limelight

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(Host) In an ideal world, everyone would have a voice, no matter what their particular gifts or problems.

That’s exactly the kind of world a unique theater camp in Brattleboro hopes to create.

The New England Youth Theater’s Theater Adventure program’ helps disabled kids and some very good friends to a moment in the limelight.

VPR’s Susan Keese reports on this summer’s production of Peter Pan.

(Classroom sounds)

(Keese) It’s 9am on the seventh day of theater camp. Parents are dropping off kids in the newly renovated New England Youth Theater Building. The former lumber mill now houses theater programs for young people of all ages and abilities.

Some of the members of this troupe have fulltime caregivers.

(Woman) “You want some help?”
(Boy) “Yeah.”
(Woman) “You lost your eye patch.”

(Keese) Most of the troupe members arrive in costume – pirates with eye patches, a couple of Wendy’s and a frilly Tinker Bell who also wears a captain hook hand. All the characters will be written into the final performance.

16-year-old Brian White, is one of several Peter Pans. He wears a jaunty green hat and a green robe. He speaks through a device called a Dynavox . His helper, Taj, says Bryan programs it himself to say what he wants to say.

(Taj) “See, you push that and it has programmed in .”
(Dynavox Voice) “I love going to theater camp because I can be with my friends. My favorite part of playing Peter Pan is the sword fighting with Captain Hook.”

(Keese) Brian says he wants to play Peter Pan because he’s strong and powerful. Brian says he wants to be powerful too.

(Children sing) “Hello, everybody. So glad to see you.”

(Keese) Director Laura Lawson Tucker calls the troupe members to the opening circle. They start with a few songs.

Some of the kids focus intently on the lyrics and hand motions. Others seem not to focus. But everyone lights up with unmistakable pleasure when it’s their turn to be welcomed.

(Keese) Tucker, a long time educator, started this theater program fours ago with Darlene Jensen. Her 13-year-old son, Elijah is in the troupe. Now the program offers sessions throughout the year.

(Tucker) “So many of our children have a really hard time speaking. Whether they literally have a voice or not, they often aren’t heard. The arts have a lot of power to allow someone to express themselves in a lot of ways, whether it’s through drumming, through singing, through stamping, through being a character.”

(Keese) Tucker believes that everyone has a mix of abilities and challenges. So the program brings together disabled kids with those Tucker calls typically developing.’ Veteran troupe members in both categories serve as mentors and helpers.

Twenty-four year old Katharine Breunig is a mentor.

(Breunig) “I can walk to here every morning. And I just love it. I like being a guide for the children to act out a story.”

(Keese) Mentor, Andre Silberman, who doesn’t have a disability, is the program’s resident drummer. He got involved the first year and has come back every year since.

(Andre) “And basically I just love the environment. Their openness to everything is what I think makes it more fun for me. Couple days ago Bryan was like, I’m going to do a spirit dance, give me some rhythm. And he started dancing all around the room.”

(Drum sound starts)

(Keese) Bryan’s spirit dance is a hit with in the big show at the end of two week summer session.

(Tucker) “And that spirit dance gave Peter Pan power.”

(Keese) Tucker says the collaborative magic of theater makes everyone feel a little more powerful and important.

(Kids sing) “I gotta crow “

(Keese) For VPR news, I’m Susan Keese.

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