This article is included in our Winter 2022 newsletter. Click here to view the entire newsletter!
Giving Individuals New Opportunities to Express Themselves
Backstage, the cast is buzzing. Props are being assembled, lines are being memorized, and last-minute stage directions are being given.
It’s rehearsal day for the nine performers in “A Christmas Carol,” the first ever show from Open Door Stage and Screen. This new program aims to create powerful productions by bringing together individuals we support and people passionate about theater.
Chad, who plays Scrooge, has perfected his role, and belts out his lines as only an old curmudgeon would while his fellow cast members receive some final costume adjustments.
“This is the start of something,” said Cary Johnston, the program’s director.
Cary has been in the field for over 15 years, providing creative support services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She decided to build a day program around the art of the theater because she liked the idea of having a program that got people moving. “I wanted to give people an opportunity to explore what they could do physically,” she said.
She spent a day with The Interact Company in Minneapolis and saw how individuals were empowered make their own choices, write their own scripts, and bring everything together to create a powerful performance. She decided to give it a try. Starting with just six people, she founded her own theater company for and by people with disabilities. The group achieved a great deal of success and operated in a variety of locations.
Now, Cary’s life journey has brought her to Open Door.
“What I wanted to do was build a legacy program with a company that has continued to reinvest in the arts,” said Cary. She was familiar with Open Door Art Studio and many of our staff who work there. “To see the same kind of investment in quality work, that made me think this was a good fit.”
After meeting with Becky Sharp and our Board of Directors, Open Door Stage and Screen was born.
It didn’t take long before folks started responding. “I like it, it’s really good,” said Ron, who plays Nephew Fred and the Governor. Many cast members have embraced playing multiple roles in the production even though most of the folks in the program have never done anything like this before.
Typically, Cary and the cast would rehearse for upwards of three months before they’d let anyone see their show. But for this first performance, they only rehearsed “A Christmas Carol” for a month and a half with just three short rehearsals per week.
Despite the time crunch, it’s clear that the individuals involved are thriving; they love having this opportunity to express themselves in a new way.
“Their multifaceted skills keep coming out,” said Cary. “Ron is an excellent stage manager and coach, and he can sew! Pete knows exactly what to do on stage, has great timing, and helps others with their lines.”
Cary makes her scripts personal: she matches the words in her script with the words the actors can say and enunciate. That, combined with a roundtable improv session with the group, is how the script is composed.
This enhances group participation; once an individual realizes that what they say out loud will get done on stage, it encourages them to get involved.
After the script is written, the costumes and sets come next. To produce “A Christmas Carol,” the actors made their own costumes—yet another way the individuals made the show their own.
“That’s the fun part for me: giving over my interpretation and finding out what these guys want to do and then making it happen,” said Cary.
One of the goals going forward is to get more individuals involved with Open Door Stage and Screen. Initially, many of the folks in the program were also a part of CAC; going forward we will open it up to the public and enroll individuals who are not currently supported by Open Door.
While the threat of COVID is still present, we want to eventually reach a place where the program can maintain an in-house company as well as a touring company to reach out to the greater community. Also, we’d like to give the performers a cut of the house earnings for acting performances—much like how artists at Open Door Art Studio receive a portion of their work’s profits.
Cary addressed the cast after a successful rehearsal with some comforting words. “If everyone on the stage is having a blast, then the audience will have a blast.”
The group went on to perform “A Christmas Carol” in front of two audiences at CAC, both receiving standing ovations from the crowd. It was a great way to get people in the holiday spirit and was a big confidence-booster for everyone involved in the program.
This program has really brought out the creativity for the folks we support, which has given everyone some great ideas of what shows they’d like to do in the future. Check out the upcoming program schedule below and be sure to mark your calendars for all the exciting performances coming in 2022, courtesy of Open Door Stage and Screen!
2022 schedule for Open Door Stage and Screen (exact dates/times are subject to change):
“Open Door Stage and Screen Sing-a-Long”
May 6th, 6-7pm
Get ready for a sing along! We sample all our favorite scenes and songs from Disney and Broadway. See and hear songs from Wicked, Jungle Book, Little Shop of Horrors, Moana, Beauty and the Beast, and more!
“The Western at the OD Corral”
June 22nd and June 28th
Ready for something very different? In the spirit of other outdoor dramas such as Tecumseh and Blue Jacket, we go outdoors to bring the Old West to town. Don’t get too comfortable…a bank robber is on the loose!
Special Outdoor Presentation at the CAC grounds
September Fashion Show
Time, date, and venue TBA
All eyes on fashion! We use the inspiration of our favorite childhood toys to create unique fashion statements.
“The Grinch That Stole Christmas”
December 14th and December 21st
Get ready to sing along with the “Whos” this holiday season!