The past few years have been years full of unexpected opportunities for me, where I have been asked to use my skills to work with surprising populations. Each of these experiences has made me grow as a person, as an artist, and as an advocate for the power of the arts to change lives. While I have written in more detail about these events in other places (and will include those links here), I would like to highlight some of the experiences here, in the hopes that they may inspire others to explore possibilities in unexpected places.
The Gift of the Arts: Giving and Receiving
During the spring 2011, while I lived and worked in Independence, KS, I was approached by CLASS LTD to create some drama programming for their clients of adults with developmental challenges. Their hope was to introduce more arts and community interaction through cultural programming. As this was basically a new population for me, I attended a workshop with Sally Bailey, an experienced drama therapist, that opened my eyes to even more to the potential of using drama to help provide opportunities for self-expression and communication to people who often get ignored. Armed with new knowledge and techniques I asked my artist friend Jackie Haltom to join me as I created a workshop for this special group, one that incorporated both drama activities and visual arts so that we could provide a variety of ways for each individual to explore, create, and express him or herself.
The success of the initial workshop led to an extended program that lasted for about 6 weeks, where we alternated between drama, art and incorporated movement and puppetry. At the end of the project, we shared in a public forum, with a workshop/performance and arts activities. At this event, I learned how powerful our work had been when the following things happened:
- The male client who would not look up and only spoke in a whisper, said lines loudly, drew pictures gleefully, and participated fully. His parents thanked me, saying that he always looked forward to our visits.
- The young female client who wouldn’t participate at all in the beginning, sitting in her chair and saying a stubborn “NO!” jumped up and volunteered at the sharing for everything by the end. She wasn’t originally going to be able to come to the sharing, but her parents brought her because they didn’t want her to miss it.
- Despite the fact that, because of family reasons, I ended up moving and leaving the program behind, it continues to thrive and grow under the capable hands of Jackie.
Learning from this wonderful group of people provided me with a gift I can only hope to return by promoting more programming in other parts of the world. This is the true power of the arts.
Crossing Cultural Boundaries
I was given a wonderful and life-changing opportunity this year, when I was invited by Dramatic Adventure Theatre to participate in an artist retreat as they began to expand their programming into Slovakia. DAT “provides the opportunity for artists to perform around the world, to explore the unknown and the familiar, and to become intimately involved with distant communities in order to build a platform where ideas, talent, and original works can be shared.” More than that, DAT’s programming utilizes theatre to promote change and provide opportunities for voices from disenfranchised communities to be heard. As part of this journey, they hoped to connect with the Roma community in Slovakia to establish a working relationship. We succeeded. We spent a day with the Roma, teaching a drama workshop and learning more about the community. The above photo is of an exercise I led with the older kids, after we had spent most of the time working with some of the younger ones. For me, it was a powerful yet challenging day, as I faced a community that is full of anger at the way they are treated by “Us” by whites. The whole trip was an amazing opportunity to see the power of arts in action, and I am forever grateful for the experience. It is my hope to continue this relationship with DAT and spend more time in Slovakia with them next summer.