Theatre program starting up for students with special needs

Cast members of SPIRIT and Jefferson High School Players in Lafayette perform together during Disability Awareness Month in 2017. WINGS will be a similar program that focuses on theatre training for children with special needs in Cass County.

The theatre arts present a stage to learn about life, the world and how its pieces fit together. For a child with special needs, theatre can spotlight different skills and concepts that may be challenging to understand otherwise.

Lisa Terry has started up the program WINGS — a new theatre group in Cass County specializing in working with special needs students in junior high school. She says that theatre is a wonderful place for all — regardless of abilities — providing those involved with self-confidence and a sense of worth.

Terry’s hope is to provide those with special needs — an often times under-served group of people — another avenue to learn about teamwork, grow in social and communication skills, improve their ability to follow directions and, perhaps most importantly, become more involved in the community.

“We want to provide another group environment for those with special needs — the Special Olympics is a great program but it’s not a one-size-fits-all,” she explained. “Not everyone wants to play in the Special Olympics — I didn’t play sports when I was in school.”

Terry is holding a call-out meeting on Thursday, Sept. 12 at 6 p.m. at the Logansport Junior High School cafeteria. She said the first meeting is intended to gauge interest in the program and urges interested parents to attend.

“Thursday is a meet-and-greet for people to get to know me and ask questions,” she said. “I want to convince them of just how wonderful an experience this is for all — not just the actors themselves — but audience members and the community at large. They will be great spokespeople for the under-served population of special needs.”

“Special needs” is a broad term that describes individuals who require assistance for disabilities that may be medical, physical, mental or psychological. Terry said that every student with special needs is different and their needs are entirely unique.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as people who have severe ADD (attention deficit disorder) to those who are learning disabled and physically disabled,” Terry said.

Terry has had previous success in starting up such groups. She spent time working for CDC Resources in Monticello — an organization comparable to Peak Community Services in Logansport. With a grant, she was able to introduce her clients to theatre and to the visual arts.

The program, SPIRIT (Special People In Roles where Imagination Takes off), included actors with special needs from around the Tippecanoe Valley area (including White, Cass and Carroll counties) working with Lafayette Jefferson High School students.

During March (Disability Awareness Month) of 2017, SPIRIT put on a performance of “Once Upon a Playground.”

Regardless of the disability, Terry says she will find a role for anyone who is interested in participating in the program.

“I had a couple individuals who didn’t want to actually act but they wanted to be involved,” she said. “One’s mother was a hair stylist — I let them be in charge of all the hair and makeup — they loved it.”

Terry said she had another gal who didn’t want to act but also wanted to be involved. Her grandmother was a seamstress.

“We had them help us with all the costumes and props,” she said. “Another example was a young man with Asperger’s who wanted to take photos. We gave him a camera and his photos were posted on Facebook.”

Terry says she isn’t thinking small with the program — she envisions multiple partnerships throughout Logansport and Cass County. She also plans to seek grants and sponsorships to help with funding and other needed materials.

“I am looking down the road for partnerships — I could see partnerships with the State Theatre, the Cass County Arts Alliance, Logansport Art Association, Civic Players, the State Hospital, senior centers, school corporations and more,” she said. “Who knows, I’m not going to think small.”

She credited Deanna Crispen and the Cass County Community Foundation for helping to start up the program. She said the program’s name, WINGS, is a reference to those who are “waiting in the wings.”

“A lot of times people with special needs are always over here waiting in the wings, so WINGS is a place where you can come and learn to fly,” she said.

Terry says WINGS is a chance to build the self-esteem of people with special needs and further incorporate them into the arts and the community.

“Their joy becomes undeniable when they hit the stage and have a welcoming audience applaud their unique gifts.”

Reach Quentin Blount at quentin.blount@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5130. Twitter: @quentinblount

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