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Announcing Our Winter Event: Snow Day!

Check out a note from our Head Adventure Guide, Ellie Levine, about her inspiration for Seesaw's 2018 winter event. 

Waking up to frost on my window and snow on the ground is one of my favorite childhood memories. This was the sure sign of a snow day. School was cancelled and we were free to explore the winter wonderland that had appeared overnight. These days were so special because they arrived out of the blue, with no opportunity for planning beforehand. They were days of following impulses and exploring.

This is why I think a snow day is the perfect setting for Seesaw’s 2018 winter event. Winter offers an abundance of sensory experiences: the feeling of gliding down a sledding hill, the sound of boots crunching through snow, or the smell wafting up from a mug of hot chocolate. I hope this event will be a jumping off point that will encourage our audience members to continue exploring the excitement of winter after they leave.

This is the second year of Seesaw’s winter event and I am excited to continue shaping it and building upon the framework of Lunchbox 2017. It will be a fun-filled day for the whole family to enjoy. We will be making crafts, eating lunch, and exploring winter through an interactive, multi-sensory theatrical adventure together! It’s an opportunity to make new connections within a family and also within the larger community. Throughout the day, parents and siblings will have a chance to share experiences with their family and to form a network by connecting with other audience members. We can’t wait to give each family a special day to play, create, and explore the wonders of winter together!

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2018 Spring Show Theme: Wanderland

By: Rachel Seidenberg (Artistic Director)

When I think of my favorite memories from my childhood, Disney World comes to mind. I’m still fascinated how within this amusement park, you can be completely immersed in a world – wandering through Cinderella’s castle or entering into a scene from Star Wars. So when I began to look for inspiration for the 2018 Spring Show, I thought about creating a world in which our young audience members could become fully immersed. I imagined an enchanted forest. I have always loved faeries, unicorns, mermaids, and elves. With our spring show, I can’t wait to bring these creatures to life.

As I step out of my role as External Education Director and into my role as Artistic Director, I plan to focus on finding ways for our audience members, who may opt not to become engaged with the story, nonetheless to be able to interact with the world and be able to fully experience the magic that happens in a Disney-like Wanderland. I want to make, what can be a dark and scary place, into a world full of excitement and wonder. Hopefully, along the way, we can show our audience members that sometimes incredible things can happen when you wander off the path.

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2017-2018 Season Theme: Celebration!

By: Rachel Seidenberg (Artistic Director)

I am so excited to announce that this year’s season theme is Celebration!

When given the task to choose the season theme, I immediately started to brainstorm what drives Seesaw. Eventually, my thoughts meandered to how far the Seesaw community has come over the last five years; we went from nothing to a community filled with passionate people who are eager to create accessible theatre. Every accomplishment, whether it’s creating a new event or seeing a kid smile, is met with celebration and the readiness to discover ways to improve upon that accomplishment.

This is going to be my third year in the Seesaw community, and over the last two years I’ve been surrounded by powerful people making great strides for this type of work. Just last year alone, Seesaw expanded to a full season, and we plan to continue that growth this year. This season, I want to make an effort to celebrate every puzzle piece that helps foster Seesaw’s growth: our board members, teaching artists, students involved in production teams for our shows, the families who passionately hop on the crazy roller coaster that is a Seesaw show, and, most importantly, the kids and young adults that come and play with us.

Don’t miss out: the Second Annual Inclusive Theatre Festival, Winter Event, and Spring Mainstage will all have their own twist on Celebration!

 

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Seesaw - Making A Show!

We have finally wrapped up the season with last week’s production of our spring mainstage, Under the Big Top! Our spring show is our most intensive event and has an intensive devising process that makes it very different from a typical show. So here’s a look at what Under the Big Top’s rehearsal process was like!

We started every rehearsal with a physical warm-up that the ensemble created our first day together, followed by “flocking” – an exercise that looks a lot like a group dance, with the movements changing as different people were struck by inspiration. Typically, a game to warm up our imaginations would follow.

 

Our first week in rehearsal focused in on world-building – we did a lot of work involving creating moments in a circus and playing with sensory experiences. We did a lot of partner work where we would have a set amount of time to come up with a brief scene or set of experiences, helping us produce a lot of material just in that first week. This was as simple as playing with a prop in the space and talking about what we liked about it to devising a scene around clowning. We were visited by our lovely set designer, lighting designer, and props designer and got to talk a little about what our playing space would look like, as well as getting to physically work with pieces they had brought in to show us to see how they might fit into the show.

 

Week Two introduced us to research hours! The ensemble worked in small teams to research the different senses – taste, sight, sound, smell, touch, and the kinesthetic sense – and present them to the rest of the group in a variety of ways. We did everything from a “sight walk” (one person with their eyes shut being led around outside by a partner) to trying to identify objects by touch to guessing the ingredients in different perfumes! In between, we started devising more specifically, going for scenes that were directly related to our characters for the show rather than the general circus experience. We also discovered what our circus animal was meant to be – a Loodle (lion-poodle mix)!

By the start of week three, we were devising and finalizing the “scenes” we had with Concessions Lad, the Loodle, and our acrobat, Dizzy Lizzy. Team Music, our wonderful composition and song-writing team, also came in to teach us some songs and talk to us about what our other songs might be like, with the storylines we were building. We started doing stumble-throughs of the show, too, to work out any kinks in the sensory experiences we wanted to offer and cement our understanding of the show. We also did a little extra team-building to strengthen the ensemble. At the tail end of the week, we filmed our social story (video that explains the Seesaw experience for our audience members), learned our last songs, and had a lesson in ASL!

Week four started out with a recording session for our songs, and quickly led us into proxy runs. Proxy runs are a very important part of Seesaw shows in which friends of Seesaw come in to experience the show as audience members and give Adventure Guides and cast members a chance to practice. While proxies may be asked to adopt certain likes or dislikes (being sensitive to noise or being particularly active, for example), we generally just ask them to be themselves and simply follow any impulses they feel in the space. Proxies are especially helpful in identifying parts of the show that don’t translate well or that might be overwhelming, and are a very important part of polishing the show. AGs also practice on each other.

Week five was tech week, the week that we got to move into our performance venue and work with the set and final props. We spent some time getting to know the space, had more proxy runs, and started performances!

Seesaw’s rehearsal process is a busy one, but so much fun – and definitely not something we could do without the wonderful Seesaw community. We will see you next year!

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Project Lunchbox

PROJECT LUNCHBOX

This year, Seesaw committed to having a full season – an event every academic quarter – for the first time. In the fall, we hosted the First Annual Inclusive Theatre Festival, this spring we’re doing our mainstage show, Under the Big Top!, and this winter we had a special day for individuals with developmental differences and their families – Project Lunchbox!

While our work mainly focuses on individuals with developmental differences, Project Lunchbox emerged from a family-centered perspective. We hoped to create an opportunity for families to bond with a day out and a chance to play together. By structuring a day to involve the whole family, Project Lunchbox tied together a desire to connect neurotypical siblings with each other, allow parents to network a little, and let the whole family form deeper connections through activities they could all participate in.

 We were delighted to spend the day with four wonderful families; with the focus of Project Lunchbox being to involve families with neurotypical and neurodivergent kiddos, our age range was nineteen months to thirteen years old!

We started the day with a song, where we got to learn everyone’s names and what we’d all brought to our picnic, and played a game to get our imagination going, with everyone thinking of all the things a pipe cleaner could be – a mustache, a wand, a halo… After our intro, neurotypical siblings went to hang out in one room for some crafting time while their parents and sibling crafted in another. In either room we chatted, made paper bag puppets, and got to know each other a little better.

Next we came back together for a very important part of our day – lunch! We had an indoor picnic, with each family receiving a picnic blanket with their name on it to take home.

It wouldn’t be Seesaw without some sensory fun, so for dessert we went on a sensory adventure.

Over the course of a few weeks, Maddie, our Head Adventure Guide for Under the Big Top! and some teaching artist friends devised a sensory show much like what we put together for our spring shows, but with an emphasis on the whole family being able to participate. Each of our teaching artists created a world around something that makes them think of their family.

Rachel started the day for us the way her family likes to wake up. None of the paper bag puppets were very interested in getting up, so we eased into the day with some “nuggling.” After everyone got some snuggles in, it was time to get up and stretch – leading us into Rebecca’s world, cooking in the kitchen with her family. In the kitchen, we smelled some spices and flavorings, and each family stirred up a big pot of something together.

From Rebecca’s world we headed into Emily’s world. Emily took us to play “outside” where we all created the sounds of a rainstorm that died down into a rainbow. We spent some time playing under the rainbow with a parachute and found a pot of gold. Since we were already outside, Marley took us up into the sky as it turned to night and we played in the stars. We decorated paper stars, made “star bugs,” played with some fun fabrics, and did a little more “nuggling.”

When we finally came back down to Earth, we ended the day by talking about things we were grateful for and singing a goodbye song.

Seesaw had a wonderful time with all of the families that came to play with us. In the future, we’re hoping to keep working on projects that involve the whole family – so stay tuned! But in the meantime, thank you to the families that participated in Project Lunchbox. We had so much fun, and we hope you did too.

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A Note From Our Head Adventure Guide: Accessibility Abroad

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When I try to explain the position of Head Adventure Guide to people outside of the Seesaw Community, I describe it as serving as the voice for our audience members in the world of our shows. I think of my job as helping Seesaw ensure that our shows are actually accessible. And I get asked a lot: “How do you go about doing that?”

My response is that I firmly believe that access to high quality art is a fundamental human right. That we need to listen to our students, we need to get to know them and learn what they want and need. We need to work with students and teachers and family members. And that we must always lead with love. And recently, my answer has started to include advocacy. If we want to create inclusive art, we must fight for inclusivity across the board.

So often in the models of theatre that we have in the US, the arts and disability don’t intersect. In fact, I would argue that in many facets of our society, accessibility is rarely a part of the conversation. There are buildings on the Northwestern campus that don’t have a single accessible entrance. That’s just unacceptable.

I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad in Ireland this past fall, and as part of my abroad experience I also had the chance to do some travelling across Europe. What I experienced abroad gave me hope in the future of accessibility within the states. I saw wheelchair users at the top of the Acropolis in Athens. I saw 3D models of paintings in art museums across Italy, giving visitors the chance to feel art they might not be able to see. I saw braille on every product sold in drug stores in Ireland. I saw programs across the European Union working to ensure that everyone has access to cultural opportunities, regardless of ability.

In the UK and Ireland, inclusive arts practice is thriving. I saw the first-ever accessible show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, created by a group called Frozen Light specifically for young adults with developmental differences. I saw a show called Backstage in Biscuit Land, a humorous two-woman show advocating for equal access, performed by a group called Tourettes Hero. I worked with arts facilitators that teach workshops with young people with autism, create films and theatre productions with young adults with downs syndrome, and lead art therapy sessions for adults with dementia (check out one of these awesome groups called Run of the Mill Theatre here). Ireland in particular has an organization called Arts and Disability Ireland, a national non-profit geared towards making art with and for individuals with disabilities (check them out here, they’re rad and have awesome frameworks for accessible arts practice across all mediums!).

As the Head Adventure Guide, my goal for this year is to deepen our commitment to inclusive theatre practice. I am excited to learn about other organizations abroad and in the states that fight for equal access in the arts. I am excited to have the ensemble help teach workshops in schools and strengthen skills in sign language and listen to our audience members’ wants and needs more than ever. I am excited to work with the board towards joining activist movements already in progress and creating networks of arts and advocacy groups across Northwestern and beyond.

With much love and excitement for a more inclusive future,

Maddie Rostami

(Head Adventure Guide)

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Inclusive Theatre Festival 2016

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who joined us for Seesaw Theatre’s First Annual Inclusive Theatre Festival! We could not have asked for a better group of individuals, or a better way to start off what we hope will be a yearly occurrence. For those who were not able to join us, we wanted to share how the day went.

We began the morning with some words from Christina Layton, Seesaw’s Internal Education Director and the driving force behind this event, and Maddie Napel, our Executive Director.

We went into a round table discussion with our guests for the day:

Gretta Berghammer, Theatre Director at the University of Iowa

Julia deBettencourt, Program Director at Snow City Arts Foundation

Claire Huntingtion, Founder of Bluelaces Theatre Company

Erica Foster, Accessibility Programmer at Lifeline Theatre Company

Hilary Marshall, North Shore Studio Manager for Arts of Life

Alex Mauney, Access and Inclusion Manager for Red Kite at The Chicago Children’s Theatre

We were able to hear a bit about what each of our guests does, how they became involved with accessibility in the arts, moments that have stood out to them in their careers, etc.

After the round table, some of Seesaw’s Teaching Artists presented us with a sensory workshop, similar to what they would bring into a school. Together, we went aboard a ship for a kinesthetic trip to an island, where we experienced some of the sounds, tastes, sights, and textures on the island.

 

 

In the break that followed, many festival participants tried out the activity Arts of Life had brought for us – making and decorating paper dolls based on Arts of Life founding artist Veronica Cuculich’s “baby dolls.”

 

Long-time Seesaw friend Ira Kriston gave our keynote speech, telling us about his life, his experiences, and his deep love of music.

After lunch, we came back together for a presentation from Bluelaces founder and Seesaw alum Claire Huntington on starting a theatre company, finding support, and connecting with the community. She gave us some great insights on the devising process in a professional setting, which led into a larger conversation in the group about how to spread multi-sensory shows and the challenges and possibilities with creating guides or scripts.

 

 

Arts of Life screened “Life and Where I’m at: The Life and Art of Veronica Cuculich,” a documentary on a founding artist, her work, and the story behind their organization. We also got to see their beautiful display of the baby dolls we’d worked on!

 

We finished off the day with a screening of Red Kite’s documentary, “The Red Kite Project.”

We hope to see you next year!

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The Summer Access Group at Portola Valley Theatre Conservatory

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The Summer Access Group at Portola Valley Theatre Conservatory

A note from our Executive Director, Maddie Napel

 

 

Three years ago this September, I arrived at Northwestern University as an eager and excited freshman. Somewhere in my first few days on campus—amidst the flurry of move-in, orientation, and winter-gear shopping—I heard about Seesaw Theatre (then TSWA) and decided to get involved.

I was first motivated to join, as were many of us on Seesaw’s Executive Board, by a family connection. My brother, Walt, has cerebral palsy and has long struggled to access the performing arts because of his communication and behavioral challenges. Walt adores music and performance—knows every Eric Clapton song ever written and screams with enthusiasm when songs end climactically—but unfortunately, it is nearly impossible for my family to find live performance venues where he will be accepted for who he is.

To put it simply, the work I do for Seesaw, I do for my brother Walt. I know Walt will never attend a Seesaw Theatre workshop or production, the four-hour flight from San Francisco to Chicago being too much for him to manage, but he has always been my motivation nonetheless.

Flash forward to this spring, when Portola Valley Theatre Conservatory (PVTC) invited me to use my experience with Seesaw to pilot a new summer theater program designed to reach young people with physical and developmental differences. I was thrilled! Here was a chance to take the Seesaw model and implement it in my hometown, among the redwood trees and rolling hills of the San Francisco Bay Area. And I would do so at PVTC, within an established and successful summer camp structure and alongside a team of gifted teaching artists committed to helping young people realize their creative potential! I’ve worked there every summer of college. It’s a wonderful company (learn more at www.pvtc-ca.org). Still, the best part of this invitation: My brother, who lives in a group home nearby, would be able to participate.

PVTC’s Summer Access Group, as we named the program, met twice this July. These wonderful young people with physical and developmental differences came first on the weekend to participate in a Seesaw-esque multisensory creative drama. Our drama was about superheroes, which gave us way of exploring PVTC’s summer-long theme of empowerment. Access Group members returned to campus the following Thursday morning to attend the Relaxed Previews of Annie KIDS. and Box, the camp performances of their neurotypical peers. We called these previews “relaxed,” as we removed sudden or surprising sound effects, left the audience lights on at a low level, and invited our Access Group members and their families to enjoy themselves free from expectations of “appropriate audience behavior.”

In conjunction with this program, I taught a series of workshops on inclusion and accessibility to the young camper-performers in Annie KIDS and Box. These young people, ages 6-13, grappled with these concepts with sensitivity and maturity. With the youngest campers, we talked about how it feels to be left out on the playground and how important it is to make sure everyone feels welcome and included. We talked about the young people in the Summer Access Group who would be coming to their show on Thursday and how they might behave differently than a typical audience would. I asked these littlest campers if they could agree to be kind and inclusive, even if the behavior of the Summer Access Group seemed weird or strange. One incoming third grader exclaimed, “Of course! It’s because they’re people too, right?”

With the older campers, we discussed the timeline of disability rights activism in the United States and brainstormed lists of ways theater can be exclusive (on the basis of ability, but also on the basis of race, gender, socio-economic status, and many other identity markers). These older campers then problem-solved, generating their own interventions to make theater more inclusive. Hearing these articulate young people talk about the importance of putting more Arab American stories onstage and offering the option of gender neutral dressing rooms to young people in theater… It gave me hope.

My brother Walt walked out of the theater on Thursday morning with a huge smile on his face, signing the word “more” over and over again in ASL. It was a proud moment for me as a teaching artist, and my proudest moment ever as a sister.  

Thank you to Portola Valley Theatre Conservatory and Seesaw Theatre for all you did to make this moment possible, and for all you continue to do to make the world a more inclusive place. Now on to my senior year at Northwestern and my last year with Seesaw Theatre! Let’s make it a great one.

 

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Accessible Theatre in Chicago - Lifeline Theatre

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Accessible Theatre in Chicago - Lifeline Theatre

A (third person) note from publicity director Becca Ehlers:

 

Theatres all over Chicago offer accessible programming – touch tours, ASL, open captioning, etc. However, sensory-friendly shows are still extremely rare. At this time, Chicago Children’s Theatre, Lifeline Theatre, and Blue Man Group are the only groups offering them.

Lifeline Theatre began offering sensory-friendly performances in fall of 2015. I spoke to Erica Foster, Operations Director at Lifeline Theatre, to learn more about how Lifeline developed the program.

According to Ms. Foster, Lifeline’s move towards more accessible theatre began two years ago, after attending a workshop by Jackalope Theatre on storefront theatres adding touch tours (a pre-show presentation that allows visually-impaired patrons to physically interact with costume and set pieces, to enhance their experience of the performance). Lifeline Theatre saw all the ways in which they could become more accessible, and formed a three-year plan to increase all access programming.

Initially, the prospect of adding sensory-friendly shows seemed “scary,” said Foster. “We’re not trained to respond to a meltdown” or other issues that may come up.

So they got some outside help. PACTT: Connecting People with Autism to their Communities has become a major resource for Lifeline. Lifeline initially went to them for advice on how to prepare for audiences with autism and other developmental differences, and how to respond if anything comes up during a show, but PACTT has become a big part of Lifeline’s sensory-friendly performances. PACTT previews the shows to give feedback on potential changes to make, as well as helping out during the performances, usually sending four volunteers to assist during shows.

Of course, it’s been a learning process, for Lifeline and for PACTT. During the first sensory-friendly performance Lifeline did, for Mr. Popper’s Penguins, an audience member became so excited about the penguin puppets being used that he ran onto the stage, through the backstage area, out into the lobby, and back to his seat. Now there’s a spotter by the stage.

While we talk a lot about sensory-friendly theatre, what does making a show sensory-friendly mean? To put it simply, Foster describes it as “taking the edge off of everything,” rather than removing every potential sensory trigger. All sound is brought down by 20% and house lights are left up to help balance out the lighting effects. Because everyone has different sensory needs and different triggers, Lifeline puts together a scene-by-scene guide for parents and caregivers that notes any moments that could be triggering to the audience member (loud noises, a dramatic lighting change, etc).

Of course, some moments in the shows may need to be altered, but one of the biggest surprises for Foster has been how few changes need to be made. “If I think we’ll need to change fifteen moments, the experts come in and tell us we’ll need to change two.”

And while Lifeline has become more confident with each performance, so have their audience members. A quiet area is provided during the show for anyone who needs a break, but as kids come back and are more comfortable with the space, the need for the quiet area has drastically decreased.

Lifeline is currently averaging about 40 people per sensory-friendly performance, which is about half of the house capacity for the theatre and allows audience members the freedom to move around a bit or maintain personal space.

From Lifeline’s experiences, it seems that the demand is there and the results are attainable. So why are sensory-friendly performances so rare?

Foster attributes it to misconceptions about sensory-friendly performances. “There’s a lack of awareness…about what they really are and what they really take.” Another issue, she notes, is a perception that you have to “remove the theatrics” for a sensory-friendly performance – something that Lifeline has found not to be the case.

This season, Lifeline’s sensory-friendly programming has been for their KidSeries shows, with the goal of focusing on shows that would be engaging for a wider developmental range. However, they will be adding a sensory-friendly performance for one of the mainstage shows in their 2016-2017 season, A Wrinkle in Time.

While experiencing live theatre is something no one should have to miss out on, Lifeline is especially invested in the ways that sensory-friendly shows allow for families to bond. Going out as a family can be difficult when a member has special needs; by providing sensory-friendly programming, Lifeline hopes to offer “an experience for the whole family without judgement.”

Thank you to Erica Foster for all of her help, and thank you to Lifeline Theatre for all of the amazing work you do.

For more information on Lifeline's accessible performances - http://www.lifelinetheatre.com/accessibility/

For more information on bringing accessibility into theatres, contact the Theatre Development Fund - https://www.tdf.org/

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ANNOUNCING.....Seesaw's Spring Show!

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ANNOUNCING.....Seesaw's Spring Show!

A note from Delaney Burlingame, director of Seesaw's Spring 2017 show!

Seesaw Theatre Presents: Under the Big Top, Coming this Spring!

When I think of some of the most quintessential experiences of childhood, the circus always comes to mind. It’s a kid’s wonderland, filled with color, excitement, and more cotton candy than you could possibly imagine. Yet for many of Seesaw’s audience members, the circus is an event they will never attend. It is over-stimulating and often inaccessible. The crowds can be loud and rude, with no patience or understanding. Performers appear, disappear, and burst through the air with no warning. Cannons blast and lions roar, filling the tent with noise. It’s a space that is neither warm or inviting to individuals on the spectrum.

With our show this year we are looking to change that reality. What I am seeking to create is a controlled spectacle. Every child deserves to experience the human marvel that is the circus. The suspense of the tight rope walker, the flight of the trapeze artist, the enormity of the elephant, all mingling with the tantalizing scent of popcorn, taffy, and a pie in the face. Our job is to find a way to introduce those stimuli in an approachable and contained fashion, without losing any of their joy or energy. I am a firm believer in embracing the unexpected in theatre. The key with Seesaw’s audience is to make those unexpected moments celebratory and empowering rather than frightening or overwhelming. With this concept in mind, the circus is the perfect challenge.


As I step out of my role as Education Director and put on my director hat this year, I am hungry to redefine how a Seesaw show feels, breathes, and looks. The circus is an event filled with magic and mystery. Much like Seesaw it rolls into town for one spectacular week, then folds itself up and disappears, leaving its audience with memories of laughter, fanfare, and wonder. I am eager to unpack that mystery, rearrange its pieces, and set it spinning for our vibrant audiences in a way built just for them. It proves no easy task, but I believe one filled with discovery and delight. Come along for the wacky ride and join us Under the Big Top this spring!

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Socialization Through the Arts With the EASE Programs

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Socialization Through the Arts With the EASE Programs

 

A post by our wonderful outreach director, Vanessa Strahan!

EASE: Everyday Arts for Special Education. And that’s what it does – it’s a program designed to make it easier for students with ASC and other developmental disabilities to communicate, socialize, and achieve academically and artistically by integrating arts education into everyday schooling. Teachers whose classrooms are participating in the program receive a series of training workshops, as well as getting a lot of in school co-teaching support to strengthen their base of knowledge and skills on fostering social-emotional learning skills, developing game-based and engaging curriculum, differentiation, and culturally responsive and inclusive practices.

The Numbers:

The Inception of the Program – 2010

Number of students served – over 50,000

Number of educators and partners participating – 1,700

Number of cities EASE operates in – 2

That’s right – only two cities. New York City and Los Angeles. The EASE methodology was first made possible in partnership with District 75 – the largest special education district in the US, housed in NYC – and a Professional Development for Arts Educators grant from the US Department of Education, which lasted from 2008-2011. EASE’s pilot program was incarnated specifically for students with ASC and was called Communication and Socialization Through the Arts, or CASTA. After the success of this program, the curriculum was expanded to include students with a broader range of disabilities and was renames EASE.

The US Department of Education recognized the success and impact of the program in the District 75 schools and awarded EASE a $4.6 million dollar Investing in Innovation Award, which was matched with a $500,000 contribution from the National Philanthropic Trust from 2010-2015. In these years, EASE drew the attention of the John F. Kennedy Center’s Very Special Arts division, which provided professional development and school-based coaching sessions throughout the LA Unified School District from 2012-2015.

EASE is now in the middle of another PDAE grant, which lasts until 2019, working in NYC’s District 75 and the LAUSD, focusing on incorporating technology for both student and teacher learning.

I know this was a lot of information, and really it’s just a long winded and detailed way of saying what in incredibly impactful program EASE has been in District 75 and the LAUSD. And think of what an impact the program could have if it was in every school with a special education program in the US. The integration of arts education into general education classrooms has been successful across the country, why should special education classrooms not receive the same opportunities? Especially when the hands on, game and communication based curriculums seen so often in arts education programs can be so particularly beneficial to cultivating the skills students with developmental differences can find more difficult than neuro-typical students.

Final evaluation results are expected this summer, but the initial numbers look fantastic. The program has yielded statistically significant improvements on students’ communication and socialization skills, has increased student motivation, attention span, self-confidence, positive risk-taking, and general interest in their school programs, as well as improving general arts and academic proficiency. I personally can’t wait to see the official numbers, which I hope are an indicator to the U.S. Department of Education and to all educational institutions across the U.S. and the world that programs like EASE should be a standard part of special education programs.

If you want to read more about EASE, please visit their website at: http://www.urbanarts.org/program/ease/

And if you want to get in contact with your state or federal congressional representatives, school board representatives, or other Department of Education officials, please use this resource to do so and to show them how much we care about getting programs like EASE into classrooms: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials

 

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The Prospector Theater - Finding Strengths in Differences

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The Prospector Theater - Finding Strengths in Differences

Our business manager, Claire, looked into employment opportunities for individuals with developmental differences and checked out a business that has made neurodiversity a priority.

As Seesaw’s new business manager, I think about money a lot. I’m supposed to. As a student, I think about money a lot. We all do. Will I be able to find work in a field that I’m passionate about, while still putting food on my table? Am I getting a degree in the right thing to land the job that I want? What is the job that I want? It’s easy to fall into a never ending spiral of questions like these. However, we often forget that non-neurotypical people do not always get to ask questions like these. The statistics are staggering. Over one third of 20-somethings on the autism spectrum have never held a job. According to numbers reported by the National Survey for Americans with Disabilities in 2010, 59% of the general population aged 16 to 64 was employed, while just 21% of adults with disabilities were. And that’s not all. There’s a social element that comes with these low numbers. Without employment, adults with developmental differences may not have a reason to leave home and be social; in fact, they may not be able to afford social excursions.

And then, there are businesses like The Prospector Theater in Ridgefield, CT. The Prospector is a non-profit,  “dedicated to providing meaningful employment opportunities for adults with disabilities through the operation of a premium, four screen, first-run movie theater. Employees of the Prospector, referred to as Prospects, are encouraged to sparkle, shine, and transform their passions into professions.”

I was lucky enough to sit down with Valerie Jensen, the founder and visionary behind the business to talk about The Prospector and the importance of meaningful employment for adults with developmental differences.

First and foremost, The Prospector is a business. While they do operate as a non-profit, every decision and hire that they make is examined for sustainability.

While Ms. Jensen understands the great need for employment for people with developmental differences, she emphasized that every employee has a purpose. “We are not just creating work for the sake of work.” And in this decision to make sure that every prospect has a specific and important purpose in the business, they get passionate employees in every aspect of the theater’s functions. Ms. Jensen said, “You have to harness that passion, we call it sparkle. You will never get anyone to work as hard as when they’re doing something they love.”

What does this mean? This means that when Frank came looking for work, he was able to channel his obsession for tires into balloon sculpting. Upon my visit, there was a partially done balloon sculpture in the lobby, in celebration of Finding Dory. This means that there is someone who is excited about baking the treats for concessions and someone who is excited about collecting ticket stubs and telling you to enjoy the movie. I met one employee who loves social media and found her passion on the theater’s Facebook page. I met another, who had painstakingly mastered an industrial embroidery machine, and he showed me the towels that he was putting the theater’s logo on in preparation for an event later this summer.

    There is an element of care that comes with a business like this one. Not being able to answer the phone is not a reason to not get a job at the box office; rather it is reason to practice. And whether it takes a day, a week, or a month, to be able to pick up that phone when it rings, success is always a cause for celebration. Not wearing deodorant to work is not a cause for termination, but rather, a way into a conversation about hygiene and what is appropriate in a workplace.

Valerie says, “Everyone gets immediate feedback and support.” And support she does. Walking around the theater with her felt like a celebration, rather than a Tuesday morning. She said that many people have asked her how they too can open a movie theater or a business like hers. And she doesn’t have a solid answer for them. She describes opening The Prospector as, “the perfect storm” in that there was no other movie theater for ten miles, the location was in the center of town, and very walkable, and she had connections and experience from her previous work with an organization called SPHERE.

However, she noted that the way she runs her business could be applied to any industry. In fact, because of the passion of her employees, they have been exploring businesses in gourmet popcorn, cleaning, and embroidery, as a result of discoveries made in the two years since The Prospector’s opening.

Most importantly, Val notes, “We’re not nice. We’re just doing what’s right AND makes good business sense.”

If you’re in the tri-state area this summer, be sure to check out a movie with Seesaw’s new friends at the Prospector Theater: http://www.prospectortheater.org/


 

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