Contributed by Mara Stuart
On Sunday February 2, 2020 I had the privilege of co-teaching a creative theater workshop for the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress’ AIM: Teen and Young Adults Program. MDSC works to ensure that individuals with Down syndrome are valued, included, and given opportunities. The AIM program meets once a month at the Newton YMCA and hosts a fun, interactive event for teens and peers with and without Down syndrome. These events encourage self-advocacy, leadership, confidence, communication and positive peer relationships. When the opportunity arose a few months ago, the decision to bring our curriculum to MDSC for the first time was an easy "yes!"
Alongside my colleague, Erin, we designed a program to introduce the basic skills of acting while focusing on self expression, public speaking, collaborating with peers, and recognizing emotions. Our program began with a series of physical, vocal, and imaginative warm ups before we moved on to activities that help us recognize and express emotions.
Teaching to a room full of teenagers is quite intimidating. Anytime I am with a new group of students, I find myself suppressing a few nervous butterflies. It took a good ten minutes for the group to warm to our ideas. Once we got them hooked, our workshop took off. Like with any group, we had outspoken students who wanted to do and try everything multiple times and others who wanted no part of standing in front of the group. It's refreshing to remember that both personality types are important to our society. Theatrical workshops are not meant to make everyone into an "actor" as much as they are an exercise in communication and expression.
My favorite part of the day happened during a rousing game of magic shoes. If you aren't familiar with this game, it's done by pretending to reach up to the celling and pull down an invisible bag of shoes. After we pick out a certain pair and properly fasten them, the magic shoes make us feel and move a certain way. Each participant takes turns deciding what is magical about the shoes. One student suggested we put on the red cowboy boots from Footloose which make us sing “Holding out for a Hero” and luckily I know every word to this song! We had an incredible few hours with this group of teens and a successful workshop. Creative theater is uniquely suited to reach a wide range of students with various skills and abilities. It brings me great to joy to watch a group of students create, take risks, and most importantly play. In that way, theater is often a hero for us all.