Members of Best Buddies are now able to learn new skills through hands on work in the technical theatre department through a program started by Amy Thomas, special education teacher, and Maylan Thomas, technical theatre director.
Every Thursday, one to three Best Buddies students work in the scene shop with technical theatre students for up to an hour and a half on various projects.
Maylan says that the students are working with a variety of skills and tools.
“Right now we’re working on basic skills with them, such as screwing things together, attaching things, just general tinkering to get them accustomed to working with the tools,” Maylan said.
“We’ve been working with drills and screw guns to build some [foundational] skills before working on scenery, which is our goal for Cabaret, [the spring musical].”
Maylan said that Shorewood Drama and Best Buddies had been thinking about starting a program similar to this before he and Amy started working at SHS in September: “Given the staffing, it made sense [to start now].”
Maylan and Amy Thomas’s motivation for starting this program is personal.
“We have a son who’s in the 8th grade and has disabilities, and we wanted him to have the opportunity to be included in some of the things that he might not be able to be included in,” Amy said. “I was hoping that by starting this [program], it would encourage him, as well as others in the class to come and join.”
Amy said a program like this, where disabled students are accompanied by an adult, is needed in the shop because the technical theatre department does not have the staff to have them included on a regular basis.
Because several technical theatre students are also members of Best Buddies, it did not take a lot of time for students to get to know one another.
“I wouldn’t say that it was a difficult transition for anybody, but you do have to make space for people who need different kinds of accommodations while working in a shop,” Maylan said. “That was one consideration that went above and beyond our typical considerations during a normal work day.”
Both Maylan and Amy said that learning how to use tools and working in the scene shop has sparked an interest in not only technical theatre, but also the industrial arts. Amy said that one student was interested in technical theatre before participating in the program, but it was not until he really started coming to the shop that he realized how much he liked being involved with the drama department.
“He still quotes things from Little Shop of Horrors, and he’ll sing the songs just out of the blue,” Amy said.
Kathryn Mauer, junior, said she has learned a lot.
“[My favorite thing was] learning how to build stuff,” Mauer said. “I built a chair [during free time].”
Free time, when there is not anything that needs to be done immediately, allows students use their creativity and general tinkering skills.
“Sometimes there isn’t anything to build for the show, like if they’re striking and we’re waiting for materials, so we just create things,” Amy said.
Amy and Maylan agree that this program has lead to large milestones in the students’ learning objectives. During Showcase, Cam Keith, sophomore, was able to do a show move.
“It was the first act, he moved the microphones on and off, which is a big deal,” Maylan said. “I think that, as parents, it’s awesome to know that your student, your child is out there being part of a team in a way that doesn’t make them feel excluded.”
Amy said that when a student is able to watch the show and see something they helped make on stage, it boosts their confidence.
“At the very beginning of Little Shop of Horrors, Cam was able to help put some of the walls together. When he saw the show, he got to look up [at the stage] and think ‘Look, I did that,’ which is huge, especially for Cam, because last year he couldn’t really walk,” Amy said. “There’s also the opportunity, once the show opens, for us all to go together as a group to watch, which is a fun bonding experience.”
Maylan and Amy plan to continue this program for the rest of the year.
“Since it’s the first year, we’re still gaging interest and [finding] ways in which the program can be fruitful for everybody,” Maylan said. “Theatre is a place that is typically full of tolerance and pushing boundaries. I like to think that we have the capacity to do that here, and further grow this kind of program.”
by Maeve McKaig