Backstage Pass Newsletter | November 2019

Serving students with Autism and Other Disabilities

Over the past three years, Bay Area Children’s Theatre has been developing Story Explorers, an immersive, sensory-friendly (i.e. quiet, never dark) musical theatre experience for children living with autism and other disabilities. In February, with support from the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, we will launch the next phase of the program—a new, six-week curriculum for special day classes in the Oakland schools during which our teaching artists will introduce students incrementally to different aspects of the musical to prepare them to enjoy an entire performance of Story Explorers at the end of the classes.

“We are excited about this new opportunity to offer a theatre experience to special day classes in Oakland, and we hope to gain even more philanthropic support from individual donations and foundations so that we can reach students with autism and other disabilities throughout the Bay Area,” said Program Director Hannah Dworkin.

As part of the Kennedy Center’s 2019-2020 VSA Performing Arts Access for Kids Program, Dworkin piloted the new Story Explorers curriculum this past summer in Marin County, where teachers were highly enthusiastic about the opportunity to serve the learning and social requirements of their students—which include consistency, predictability and repetition—while enriching their experience and familiarizing them with elements of the theatre experience through music, movement and other interactive, show-related activities.

“Our overarching goals for the new program,” Dworkin said, “are to give access to theatre and music to students with disabilities, focusing on students with autism; have students with disabilities participate in the creativity of music, theatre and movement in the theatre setting, with preparation for this experience in the classroom; and give families with children who have disabilities access to the joy and imagination of a professional performance specially designed for their engagement and enjoyment.”

Story Explorers enables students to experience a live professional production, many for the first time, by tailoring the experience and the production to meet their needs. For example, instead of proceeding in a linear fashion, the show engages the senses and invites the children to become involved in the moment as they visit imaginative worlds like a jungle and enjoy a relaxing day at the beach, where everyone can hear the whoosh of a parachute as the actors use it to create a breeze and gently sprinkle water to evoke the spray of the waves.

Dworkin anticipates the expanded program will deepen students’ learning by enabling them to:

  • Learn a variety of age and developmentally appropriate songs and dances
  • Engage with performers in imaginative play in the classroom and theatre setting
  • Develop the focus to watch and participate in a live performance

“The expanded program gives students the processing time they need,” Dworkin said, describing one little boy who started the pilot program by biting her jacket and, three weeks into the curriculum, climbed happily into her lap.

For more information about Story Explorers, contact hannah@bactheatre.org

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Bay Area Children's Theatre  |  Phone: 510-296-4433  |  info@bactheatre.org