In April, I was honored to be part of a group of Arts Administrators from all over the country selected to partake in a professional development program hosted by Lincoln Center's "The Big Umbrella Festival". This is a theatre festival for children on the autism spectrum and their families. After four eye-opening days of symposiums, breakout sessions, deconstructed performances as well as ones with audiences and more, I'm back in Philly and feeling so energized. Not only was I surrounded by inspired professionals, but also by amazing theatrical pieces from three different countries (UK, USA & Australia), all made for and with children on the autism spectrum.
How do we help students with autism accomplish their therapeutic and academic goals in a social and creative way? We addressed multi-sensory and interactive storytelling to excite kids with autism, as well as using stepping stones to build up narratives. More examples of this were activities prior to and during performances playing in water, on trampolines, and using different textured materials and props or essentially, "stepping into their world."
At the end of each day, we reviewed what we'd observed, how we'd dealt with this in our own organizations and more importantly, how we could build more sustainable and special needs audience friendly programming. It's not about the product when it comes to an audience like this, but rather asking them if they enjoyed themselves, analyzing whether or not they were able to work closer towards their individual goal, and most importantly, if they were indeed proud of themselves. With people on the spectrum, behavior is a part of their communication. Each moment in a play exists as a meaningful experience on its own. How can we, as arts administrators, cultivate that?
In addition to taking the audience into consideration, we also have to consider the schools, organizations and parents of these students. How do we navigate the different beliefs held by each of these partners? Or even with the actors, how we provide structure for the students throughout the course of a show but still do the artistic things we want to do?
This might seem like more questions than answers but personally, it opened up my way of thinking. It made me realize there were questions there I had no solid or verified answer to. It also made me realize that there were questions I hadn't even conceived. Now, thanks to this professional development program, the amazing networking I did and connections I made, I know there's things I have to consider, who I can ask for advice and where the work is being done.
A huge thanks to Lincoln Center for opening my eyes to a really critical arts education and management area of need.