New Spotlight Shines on Special Needs Actors

New Spotlight Shines on Special Needs Actors

The Marcus Jewish Community Center just held auditions to select the 12 actors for its first theater troupe composed of adults with disabilities.

The Spotlight Theatre Company is not taking the place of Jerry’s Habima Theatre, which includes special needs performers with other actors for one show a year and in February and March presented “Shrek the Musical, Jr.” Habima will be back for its 24th season next winter.

Brian Kimmel, the Marcus JCC’s arts and culture director, said Spotlight is a supplemental program added to the Blonder Family Department for Special Needs through a gift from the late Helen Marie Stern.

“This is an intensive, audition-only theater group for special needs adults that meets weekly,” Kimmel said. “There are technical aspects — lighting and sound and things like that.”

In a statement announcing the company, Marcus JCC CEO Jared Powers said, “This new theater company is unique because participants will be trained in both the performing arts (plays, musicals, improv, storytelling, etc.), as well as behind-the-scenes production support (set design, lighting, sound, costumes, makeup, box office, ushers, etc.).”

The program is free for the actors, each of whom is at least age 18 and has one or more disabilities as defined by the Americans With Disabilities Act. The troupe will meet at the JCC’s Dunwoody campus every Friday from late August until April 30, 2017, and will serve as a social connection beyond the performing arts for the dozen participants, Kimmel said.

Participants will train together, take trips to local arts organizations and participate in master classes with professionals in the field.

When professionals visit the Marcus JCC to talk to the troupe about behind-the-scenes theater operations, such as lighting and sound, Kimmel said, the relevance might be portrayed through an experience the actors could relate to, such as experiencing the lights at Walt Disney World.

Because the troupe is limited to 12 actors, Kimmel said, each member of the company will have ample opportunity to learn.

“This is going to give everyone the perfect amount of training and time,” he said. “Everything takes time. We have to take extra training time because there’s a learning curve, and we lay out challenges.”

The lineup of shows Spotlight will present will not be simplified for the actors, Kimmel said. “Guys and Dolls,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Shrek” are among the works he mentioned as possibilities for the troupe.

“We pick difficult material so they can rise to it,” Kimmel said.

For the auditions April 12, each actor had one song and one monologue prepared. By contrast, no auditions are necessary for Habima Theatre, although Kimmel said some of the troupe’s actors have participated in Habima for years.

“Theater for some of them, it’s their life; it’s what they are constantly obsessing over,” Kimmel said, adding that it is a far greater experience than sitting indoors to get electronic screen time (e.g., computer, smartphone and TV).

He said the intention of the Spotlight launch is to develop a creative and sustainable program. “It’s the kind of thing we’re going to build over a four-to-five-year span.”

Jennifer Lieb, the Marcus JCC’s director of inclusion, said: “Through these hands-on theatrical experiences, participants will gain increased self-confidence, self-esteem, social skills, discipline, motivation — life skills that are useful long after the final curtain call.”


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