I haven’t posted in forever. I know. Like, in 2 months. I cannot begin to tell you how crazy I’ve been. Since I last posted, Henry turned 11, I turned 46, I photographed 2 shows at Maggie’s school, a show at Woodstock North, 2 Woodstock Musical Theatre Company shows, the Royal Holiday Tea Party at WNHS, 2 choral concerts & a Madrigal dinner.
Yeah – I didn’t tell you. I got hired by one of our local community theatre groups to be their photographer! I shot Little Shop of Horrors in October and A Christmas Carol right before Thanksgiving. For my birthday, I got a new camera lens –Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II AF-S Nikkor Zoom Lens -that has proven just WONDERFUL in getting good shots when shooting dark theatrical scenes. It’s wicked heavy, but worth it.
Woodstock North did Charlotte’s Web as their fall show. Their theatre department is great in that one show every year is what they call “Theatre for Young Audiences” where they do a kid’s show so as to bring live theatre to children. So many children don’t have the opportunity to see live theatre and it’s just amazing & magical for them. I hear so many stories about people who never thought performing was a real thing until they saw a live performance and realized that it was something that spoke to them. When I learned about it, I though it would be amazing if they could do a school-day performance for the Life Skills classes in the district. Yes, it was selfish – I wanted Henry to see it, but there’s no way we could take him to a typical performance. We never know what he’ll do, what might trigger something for him. When I talked about it with the director/performing arts center manager, they said they’d look into it. However, the principal decided that he wasn’t interested in having the high school students miss classes to do it.
And that set me off. Back in my day, we did school day performances every year for the musical. The junior high kids would come and we’d spend half the day doing the show for them. It was awesome for us and for the younger kids. In fact, it was seeing “Can Can” at the high school when I was in junior high that convinced me that I HAD to get my butt on stage when I got to that school. Considering the stupid things that kids get to miss class for (pep assemblies, for example), the idea that providing a learning experience for a segment of the district’s population isn’t worth them missing one morning’s classes really grated my cheese. So, my husband and I decided to actually do something. We scheduled a meeting with our new superintendent to present the problem and our argument as to why it should happen. We did what we could and hoped for the best.
When I got the call that it was going to happen, I freaked. Obviously the superintendent heard us and saw the value in it. He went to the principal and told him it was going to happen. I was SO excited. I went the week before to shoot the show and when I walked in and saw the set, I began to cry.
They made a BARN. A gorgeous, 2-story barn. And I was picturing Henry walking in and seeing it and being overcome. I got it together pretty quickly, but by the time the show wrapped, I was SOBBING. These kids put together an amazing, fun, emotional, moving, entertaining show that was going to be unbelievable. I tried to get it together, but I couldn’t. This auditorium was going to be filled with children who had probably never seen a live show and, most likely, would not be able to see a live show. Due to their sensory issues, autism, medical issues, they couldn’t attend a regular performance because they’d be disruptive to other audience members. For example, with Henry if he doesn’t like something or it’s not going the way he wants, he can just shout out, “STAAAHHHHHHP IIIIIIIIIT!” at the top of his lungs. Some of the children are unable to control their vocal outbursts or they move around a lot due to sensory issues. I just sobbed as one of kids came running down to hug me. I tried to explain to them how special this was – how much this was going to mean to these kids and their teachers. How absolutely huge this was. I know they couldn’t possibly understand unless they know someone like Henry & his schoolmates and what it’s like for them.
I ended up writing a letter to our local paper afterwards sharing what happened and thanking those who made it happen. Rather than try to recreate the thoughts, I’ll just copy & paste it here:
On November 20th at 10am, something magical happened. After much work, the district’s administrators had been convinced to allow a school day performance of Woodstock North’s “Charlotte’s Web” as a special invitation event for District 200’s Life Skills students.
As I stood near the front of the stage and watched students from 2 elementary and 1 high school arrive in wheelchairs, with teachers and aides – all about to experience something they had never experienced before, I cried. These students are a part of our community and, for the most part, going to see a live theatrical performance is something they would not be able to do because they aren’t a typical audience. This was a monumental and extraordinary event for both the attendees and those presenting the play.
You see, my son Henry is a student in Prairiewood’s Life Skills program. And while I knew he would love nothing more than to go see a play about farm animals with a huge barn and music and dancing, I also knew his father and I could not take him because his Down Syndrome and autism prevents him for being a “proper” audience member and could interfere with others’ enjoyment of the event.
I sat taking pictures at the front of the stage watching these children become transported into the story presented by the high schoolers. Children who can hardly ever stop moving, stopped. Children who are constantly squealing, shouting or just vocalizing were quiet. Children who don’t make eye contact were FOCUSED on the stage, watching the action. I was blown away and I know these kids.
I have to share this with our community so everyone knows that this happened and how important it was. This was a big effort to make it happen with quite a few hoops to jump through, so let me share this with you:
An auditorium full of our district’s Life Skills students seeing their first live theatrical performance. And as these kids often do, they completely surpassed our expectations for attention and behavior!
Thank you to our superintendent, Mike Moan, who heard our request, saw the value in it, and made it happen.
Thank you to Sue Lewis, PAC manager at Woodstock North, who was willing to not only do it, but to adapt the performance to this non traditional audience. You are a godsend to us.
Thank you to the WNHS Theatre parents who took their time to be there and help out in any & every way.
Thank you to the teachers & aides/associates of these kids who took on the extra work of getting the kids there and meeting their needs in a different environment.
Thank you to the transportation department for working out the buses needed for this trip.
And thank you to all the kids at North who were excited about doing this for this population of students and who gave 100% to these kids. Learning new light cues & sound cues, quickly memorizing cuts to the script and being flexible enough to handle it.
Just..thank you all. You all provided an experience for these kids that they’d probably never had and might never have again. Seeing the faces of these kids who couldn’t believe this was happening live in front of them filled my heart to overflowing. This was a big, big deal and I’m sure it will be remembered for a long time.
Finally, let me share a picture I took that morning. This is Henry (over to the left) next to his aide, Megan.