Laura’s Corner, Spring, 2018
Isn’t it lovely how artists can capture us? Stephen Sondheim
This lyric from Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George has been running through my mind recently, and, if you’ve noticed the theatre offerings at The Nantucket Dreamland, you may well understand why it’s become my mantra.
Honoring our commitment to make the arts accessible and available for all, we have increased our programming for youth and their families as we continue to extend our Community and Educational Outreach. In March, our production of Doctor Dolittle welcomed both returning and new young artists, and offered everyone the chance to talk to the animals. This spring, our production of Blue by Annie Cusick Woods traveled from our Main Stage to Nantucket Elementary School and Small Friends to share an inspiring tale of colors, tolerance and acceptance with our youngest audience members. The month of May finds us returning to the classroom and Cyrus Peirce Middle School for our second workshop of We Are Nantucket with scholar Nancy Newhouse and Nantucket Television.
In April, The Nantucket Dreamland hosted the junior class of Nantucket High School as they attended the Royal Shakespeare Company Live presentation of Hamlet. The commitment of NHS to bring its students to The Dreamland during the school day illustrates the ways in which arts programming enriches curriculum. The founding principle of The National Endowment for the Arts is described in one short phrase – Art Works. We at Nantucket Dreamland experience this first hand as we witness the effect of the arts upon our community.
Accessibility and inclusion are resonating deeply in my own spirit as I have recently returned from four inspiring days of professional development with The Big Umbrella Festival. Artists, educators and arts administrators gathered at The Lincoln Center Campus in New York City for a powerful immersion into the world of the performing arts, and how to make this world accessible for all audiences.
Our time together included panel discussions, live performances by leaders in the world of TYAA (Theatre for Young Audiences with Autism), and group explorations into the nature of the ingredients inherent in the work. As we sailed Up and Away with Trusty Sidekick, dove into the ocean with Sensorium’s Oddysea, and immersed ourselves into the sensory world of a sunset with Oily Cart – all exceptional companies offering work for the TYAA audience – we experienced the joy of the textures, sights and sounds of what this kind of theatre-making offers.
In addition, we were invited to observe audience members and their families as they attended a live TYAA performance. For many families, it was the first opportunity to experience the world of theatre with their child in way that felt safe, inviting, and without judgement. As I watched the actors engage with the audience, I was deeply moved by the shared experience of both – experiences in which a mirror, an umbrella, and a silky sheet of fabric became conduits of connection, offering a safe passage into the world of the play.
The festival’s focus on the intersection of the arts and autism included conversation around the ways in which we may welcome the TYAA audience in. Tools include a social narrative which details the specifics of attending the theatre, pre show activities, quiet spaces, and the use of textures, scents and lighting – all of which provide a roadmap to prepare the audience and help them both understand and safely enter into the performance.
The attendees of The Big Umbrella Festival arrived as arts educators and producers, curious to see how we might include such performances in our seasons. When we departed Lincoln Center on Sunday evening, we left as a cohort profoundly changed and united by a shared vision and commitment to produce this kind of work. It is my hope that we resolve to subscribe to the practices we shared together, and that those practices will permit all audience members to engage with the arts in their own unique way – a practice of inclusively that will truly welcome and inspire us all.