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Our 2020 Spring Mainstage

Put on your smock and roll up your sleeves! We are so excited to create an interactive art gallery for our spring production: Outside the Lines! 

When thinking about what kind of adventure we wanted to create this spring, I was interested in giving our audience members agency that didn’t require them to follow the plot. I immediately thought about the creativity and freedom of making art, as well as the rich sensory experiences that come along with different art forms. From feeling the silky clay on a pottery wheel to watching a photo develop, the world of art invites people to wake up their senses and imaginations!

This will not just be an arts and crafts class, but rather a theatrical experience that will encourage audience members to use all of their senses to explore art-making in a unique way. We hope you will join us to imagine, create, and fill our gallery!

-Ellie Levine, Artistic Director

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Our 2020 Winter Event

When I was a kid, I was famous for my inability to sleep. I am told that many a night my parents would come back from a night out and find me sitting with my babysitter on the couch, way past my bedtime. I would refuse to stay in my room and until my babysitter would just give up and let me stay awake until my parents got home. In my defense, the night can be scary! It is dark and there are weird noises that you’ve never heard before. You’re supposed to relax but with all of that going on, relaxing is much easier said than done. 

But it doesn’t have to be so scary! In the night there are also magical animals that come out to play, such as owls and raccoons. There are beautiful sounds, such as crickets. And everything is guided by the soft, peaceful glow of the moon. I am so excited to explore what is fun, beautiful, and safe about the night, from sunset to sleep. Hopefully, after seeing all the good there is in the night, we all will feel a little bit safer and happier as we’re tucked into our beds at the end of the night. 

We are so excited to bring the wonder and magic of the night to classrooms around the Chicagoland area with our show “Me & the Moon!”

-Erin Claeys, Winter Event Director

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Our 2019-2020 Season Theme

I am thrilled to announce Seesaw Theatre’s theme for the 2019-2020 season: Exploration! As our executive board was discussing our hopes for the upcoming year, the word exploration permeated many discussions. We are excited about infusing a sense of exploration into all facets of our work. 

I love the concept of exploration for many reasons. Exploration is essential for creation. In order for something to come into existence, someone must be willing to dive headfirst into the unknown and explore. Exploration is necessary for innovation. It is easy to become satisfied once you have established something that works. But with a fiery sense of exploration and an insatiable curiosity, innovation will continue to improve upon the original. 

For these reasons, and many more, I am so excited to center our season programming around exploration. Our shows and workshops will give audience members the agency to become explorers -- investigating and engaging with unique adventures. As an organization, we will examine our processes in order to continue exploring how we can innovate and improve our practices.  

We can’t wait to kick off our year of exploration!

Ellie Levine, Artistic Director

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Seesaw at AATE 2019

This past week, eleven Seesaw humans reunited in New York City to give a presentation at the American Alliance for Theatre and Education’s 2019 conference. AATE is an organization of theatre educators whose mission it is to transform young people and their communities through theatre. This year, the AATE conference focused on equity, inclusion, and accessibility, and it included presentations and workshops from a variety of theatre companies, researchers, and educators. Our Seesaw attendees enjoyed five action-packed days of learning, listening, and exploring together.

We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to present at this conference and to share a little bit of Seesaw magic with theatre artists and educators from across the country. Seesaw’s interactive workshop, entitled “Behind the Scenes at Seesaw: Interactive Multi-Sensory Theatre for Children with Cognitive Differences”, focused on our techniques and strategies when devising original material for audiences on the autism spectrum and with other cognitive differences. Our workshop began with a performance of part of our spring mainstage production of Clued Inn, an original devised piece centered around a hotel mystery which incorporated music, a cast of characters and Adventure Guides, and experiences for all six senses. Next, we led our workshop attendees in an interactive devising activity of their own as a way to experience a moment from our typical devising process for a multi-sensory theatrical experience like Clued Inn. Then, members of Seesaw led our workshop attendees in a reflection period and Q&A session discussing the feasibility and benefits of this work in a university setting.

Aside from our own presentation, our Seesaw Theatre presenters got to experience a number of dynamic workshops, presentations, and lectures while attending the conference. Impactful and thought-provoking keynote speeches were delivered by artist and scholar Dr. Lizzy Cooper Davis, writer and activist Kayhan Irani, playwright Alexis Roblan, and interdisciplinary artist Ty Defoe. In just one of the weekend’s many memorable moments, New York City’s All In(clusive) Theatre Ensemble delivered a spectacular performance of their own devised work. Another HUGE highlight was the presentation of the Outstanding Undergraduate Award to Seesaw Theatre’s very own 2018-2019 Artistic Director, Rachel Seidenberg! Rachel was recognized for her dedication to Seesaw Theatre and love for its multi-sensory, inclusive work. Here at Seesaw, we couldn’t be more proud of Rachel and can’t wait to see what she does in the years to come!

We truly cannot express enough our gratitude to be able to attend and present at AATE 2019! We treasured the opportunity to play, think, and grow alongside so many other incredible theatre artists and educators. Thank you AATE!

Workshop participants creating their own sensory experiences!

Workshop participants creating their own sensory experiences!

Sequin flip fabric is ALWAYS a hit!

Sequin flip fabric is ALWAYS a hit!

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Our 2019 Spring Mainstage

I’m overjoyed to announce Seesaw’s 2019 Mainstage: Clued Inn.

While last years theme was inspired by visuals, this year the theme was drawn from a desire I had to be a part of the adventure when seeing shows throughout my childhood. Growing up, I searched for stories where I could engage with the plot and feel like I had a helping hand in what happened next, even if the story was predetermined before I ever interacted with it.

After many conversations with this year’s Spring Mainstage Producer and Head Adventure Guide, we narrowed down possible themes as to what would best fit this vision. But the whole time we were constantly drawn to the notion of detectives solving a mystery clue by clue. We knew that this was the story to explore.

We can’t wait for you to join our host of characters as we solve a swanky hotel’s mystery before word gets out. And what better way to give our audiences the opportunity to engage with the plot as much or as little as they would like by giving them the most important role in the story… the detectives!

Our entire team is eagerly awaiting to see what the next few months will bring, but until then, who knows what our mystery will be!

- Rachel Seidenberg, Artistic Director

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Our 2019 Winter Event

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My freshman year of college I surprised my family by flying home for a long weekend in February without telling them. Why? To go home for the Rodeo. That’s right, in my home town of Tucson, Arizona all schools get an extra TWO DAYS off when the rodeo comes to town. I remember putting on my cowboy hat and boots, finding my biggest belt buckle and heading to the fairgrounds, the taste of caramel corn on my mind. Rodeo weekends remain some of my most cherished childhood memories.  

Now I know the Rodeo is not a universal experience, but it was my family’s version of a county fair. An annual day we all spent together sharing in a unique experience. This is why I chose Rockin’ Rodeo for the theme of Seesaw’s third annual winter event. Starting with Lunchbox in 2017, the winter event has always been about family; and this year I want to focus on helping our audiences find joy in experiences the new experiences from a county fair. I want our audience members to taste the kettle corn, feel the petting zoo, ride the spinning ride, maybe even hog tie a calf all from the safety of our space or their classroom. I am interested in adapting very physically exclusive familiar experiences for all of our audience members.

I am so excited to build on Seesaw’s winter event for the third year. This project has evolved into such a special, family driven, community focused show. With the guidance of our “Lost and Found” season theme we will create a fun-filled day for the whole family (or class) full of crafts, snacks, and sensory exploration. We can’t wait for you to join us!

— Savannah Runge, Winter Event Director

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Our 2018-2019 Season Theme

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I am thrilled to announce that we will be exploring the theme “Lost & Found” in our programming for the 2018/2019 season! As an organization, we are eager to have our season theme hold more weight in our artistic programming. As we are curating our shows, workshops, and events, we will be focusing them under this larger theme.

The phrase ‘lost and found’ has always been a relevant phrase for me growing up. When I was younger it took on more literal meaning. But as I grew older, ‘lost and found’ developed into something more than just finding a penny. As I came to school, I was feeling like I’d lost my home, only to realize I was expanding it by finding people to surround myself in my new home. ‘Lost and found’ became about finding experiences that made me feel loved and cared for.

So join us as we explore things lost, but more importantly, things found.
- Rachel Seidenberg, Artistic Director

Stay tuned to hear more about all of our upcoming season events! Mark your calendars for the 3rd Annual Inclusive Theatre Festival on November 17th & 18th! 

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AATE Adventures

Emily Baldwin, Madeleine Rostami, and Rachel Seidenberg at AATE's annual symposium.

Emily Baldwin, Madeleine Rostami, and Rachel Seidenberg at AATE's annual symposium.

The American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE) is a national network of artists and educators working to further the field of drama education and theatre for young audiences. This February, AATE’s annual symposium focused on the theme of Best Practices: Accessible and Inclusive Theatre. Organizer Talleri Adkins McRae invited Seesaw to present as part of the weekend’s Resource Roundtable event. Alongside Emily Baldwin (Director of Seesaw’s 2016 production EARTH), who served on the symposium planning committee, Madeleine Rostami (Seesaw Executive Director) and Rachel Seidenberg (Seesaw Artistic Director) flew down to Louisville, Kentucky for a weekend of learning and playing with artists from across the country.

One highlight of the conference was StageOne’s sensory-friendly performance of Hamlet. StageOne, located at The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, offers a variety of services, including hearing application receivers, audio description receivers, and ASL interpretation. Before watching their performance, we were fortunate enough to get a behind-the-scenes look at how the sensory-friendly aspects were created. We also learned about StageOne’s collaboration with a performing arts middle school, in which students with developmental disabilities worked alongside teaching artists during four classroom sessions to unpack and prepare the play. Students saw their contributions come to life by being audience members during the sensory-friendly performance. In the Louisville inclusive theatre community, professionals come together to create a cohesive standard for sensory-friendly performances. There is a cross-theatre partnership, in that every theatre uses the same terminology and techniques—such as social stories, tape on the floor to indicate where the audience ends and the stage begins, and touch tours— so that families know exactly what to expect at sensory-friendly performances like StageOne’s Hamlet.

Similar to Louisville’s cross-theatre partnerships, cross-city business partnerships exist as well. The Autism Friendly Business Initiative is part of a city-wide effort to ensure that Louisville is an Autism Friendly Community. However, a community cannot simply declare that they are “autism friendly.” They must also do the work to create accessible and inclusive spaces, which is where the business initiative comes in. According to their website, the program seeks to encourage and train local businesses in Autism Awareness, Acceptance, and Appreciation. This is accomplished through a three-phase training program in which business leaders and their employees learn how to better serve the folks with autism across the city. Cody Clark, a performer on the spectrum, and a coordinator for the Kentucky Autism Training Center taught symposium attendees ways businesses and classes can be truly inclusive. In the spirit of the conference overall, they both emphasised the importance of “honoring lived experience wherever possible,” elevating the voices of those with autism when creating a program, and being willing to develop necessary components as initiatives evolve. Access is not static— communities must remain in continuous dialogue to ensure meaningful change.

We saw this continuous dialogue in action by sitting in for a talkback after The Commonwealth Theatre Center’s Trojan Women production. An ensemble member and the stage manager—both of whom are on the spectrum—and their parents talked about what inclusion looks like at Commonwealth Theatre Center. The two student presenters spoke about how theatre helped to draw out their strengths, or (in their words) their superpowers. They also spoke about how the supportive environment created by the staff and students was meaningful to them. The student who stage managed and did lighting design for the show discussed an especially powerful moment she experienced during the production. Her cues somehow got erased right before the show. Despite this major setback, she was able find a solution with the help of her teacher.  Her teacher not only delayed the show to give her time to regroup, but also challenged her to improvise the lighting cues as the show unfolded. We were amazed to learn that the stage manager did just that, effectively saving the show.

We heard even more about the great things young people are accomplishing during a visit to Louisville’s arts magnet elementary school. At the Lincoln School for the Performing Arts, we watched scenes performed by The Braille Readers Theatre, an ensemble of theatre artists who are blind or have low vision. It was particularly exciting to see The Braille Readers and Lincoln students work together through a project in which a Lincoln class of typically-developing fifth graders designed and described costumes for Braille Readers who cannot see. A Seesaw favorite was a description of a wizard’s cloak “that looks like the sound of lightly falling rain.” Designs came alive with multiple senses and textures that enabled both seeing and blind/low vision participants to experience the costumes in new ways. In advocating for access and inclusion in the arts education programming at Lincoln, students reached new heights through collaborative, creative learning. Access is artful, and by including this tenet in the classroom, teachers have the opportunity to unlock new artistic potential in all students.

We are so thankful for the opportunity to attend AATE’s symposium. Throughout the weekend, there was a sense that, as a field, we are on the precipice of major change towards inclusion in the performing arts. We cannot wait to incorporate what we learned at the symposium into our work in Evanston and to continue fostering meaningful arts access. 

By Madeleine Rostami and Rachel Seidenberg

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Reflecting Back...Inclusive Theatre Festival 2017!

Courtesy of Ellie Levine Photography.

Courtesy of Ellie Levine Photography.

Courtesy of Ellie Levine Photography.

Courtesy of Ellie Levine Photography.

Thank you to everyone who attended Seesaw’s second annual Inclusive Theatre Festival, a culmination of our work in the inclusive arts, as well as a celebration of professionals working in this field! Our first annual festival last year was such a success, that this year the festival expanded to include two full days of programming, as well as presentations by artists and organizers, not just from the Chicagoland area, but from all over the United States. If you were not able to join us, read on for highlights from the weekend.

 

The first day of ITF, dubbed “Community Day,” focused on inclusive arts programming in the Chicagoland community and beyond. Presenters hailed from Chicago, New York, LA, Seattle, Dallas, and more.

 

Maddie Rostami, our Executive Director, and Christina Layton, our Internal Education Director and the mastermind behind ITF, kicked off our day with some introductions. We then got to know each other better with an icebreaker led by art therapist and educator Sharon Hyson. We broke into small groups with people we hadn’t met before and worked to create hats made of everyday objects, like egg cartons and newspapers.

 

After the ice had been sufficiently broken, we heard from several organizations about their work in the ever-exciting field of inclusive arts!

 

Julia deBettencourt of Snow City Arts started us off with a presentation about incorporating arts education in hospitals. Jamie Agnello from New York’s Trusty Sidekick Theatre Company then presented a video of their first accessible production, Up and Away, where audiences on the autism spectrum and their families experience what it’s like to explore the clouds in a custom made hot air balloon. Lastly, we heard from Special Gifts Theatre program participants about how they’ve been touched by the organization’s work in accessible musical theatre programming.

 

After a delicious lunch and the opportunity to chat about what we’d seen so far, we regrouped for the second portion of the day. We learned more about Evanston-based Mudlark Theatre’s opportunities for Northwestern student involvement, heard from Elaine Hall about how she founded the Miracle Project in LA after her son was diagnosed with autism, and discussed fundraising strategies with Nancy and Karl Schaeffer of the Dallas Children’s Theatre, which serves both typically and differently abled audiences. 

 

Interactive presentations included an improv performance and testimonials by PEEP Improv Ensemble players, a sample classroom workshop for Up and Away led by Jamie Agnello, and a collaborative Shakespearean performance by both teaching artists and actors from Chicago’s ABLE Ensemble. 

We finished off an already fantastic day with a networking gala at the beloved Evanston restaurant, the Celtic Knot, where students and professionals got to know each other better—all while eating delicious food.

 

Our next day of programming, “Campus Day,” was focused on inclusion on college campuses and post-graduate opportunities in inclusive theatre.

 

Our first presenter of the day was Julie Griffin, an occupational therapist from Aspire Chicago, who gave an informational overview of sensory processing, and how developmental differences manifest in a unique way in each person she works with.  We then heard from Christena Gunther and Evan Hatfield about practical, logistic tips for making any space accessible, followed by fundraising tips from Co/Lab Theatre Group co-founder Becky Leifman. Allison Mahoney, a Northwestern alum and co-founder of Theatre Stands with Autism, which is now Seesaw Theatre, discussed the challenges and rewards of founding Bluelaces Theatre Company in New York City after graduation.

 

After a break for lunch, we heard from Seesaw’s 2015-2017 Executive Director, Maddie Napel, about her Northwestern thesis project in which she traveled to several college campuses to help spread the Seesaw model and the work she has been doing with Seattle Children’s Theatre since then. We then learned more about inclusion in primary education, from Aspire Chicago’s Education Specialist/Inclusion Advisor, Greg Ward.

 

After a busy day of presentations, participants took part in a more interactive segment, where Katie Yohe from ABLE Ensemble led participants in a playing and devising activity. We finished off a fabulous weekend with a presentation by Seesaw’s very own research team.

Courtesy of Ellie Levine Photography.

Courtesy of Ellie Levine Photography.

We are so thankful for all of the presenters and attendees who played and learned with us throughout the weekend.  Without your passion and enthusiasm, ITF would not be possible. We cannot wait to see how Seesaw and the larger inclusive arts community continue to grow and to share that with you at next year’s Inclusive Theatre Festival! 

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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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