Six years ago, I helped my friend Elaine Hall submit a grant to the Jewish Community Foundation for a brand new program called “The Miracle Project”, which would use music, dance, visual art and theater to help kids with autism and other special needs (along their typically developing siblings, plus volunteers) to express themselves creatively and to socialize outside of the conventional modes of therapeutic interventions. The actual show (actually two different productions) took place at the Odyssey Theater in West Los Angeles, and was featured in the award-winning documentary, “Autism: The Musical”.
In the intervening years, the program morphed and changed venues a few times, finding a home at Vista Del Mar, and is now called the Vista Inspire Program. We just got home from seeing the two latest shows, held again at the Odyssey Theater, and feel the same mixture of inspiration, joy and just plain fun that we felt the very first year.
Full disclosure: I am not exactly a disinterested observer, since Danny (along with his big sister) have been part of the program from day 1, but I have to confess that even I forget from year to year what a big deal it is for children and teens with developmental disabilities to have the chance to act, dance, and sing to the sound of applause ringing in their ears. So often these are the kids who are left out of mainstream sports, recreational and theater experiences that typically developing kids engage in without a second thought.
Since many of the participants have been doing this program for several years, we have all had the chance to see each others’ children grow (physically) and mature (emotionally). The kid who could only say his lines looking down at his feet is now having fun with the timing of the scene and even the shyest ones look forward to their star turns. And some of the kids are truly wonderful singers (look out American Idol!).
The staffs of the program really make the program stand apart, with professional directors, musicians and music therapists, plus a raft of community high school volunteers and adults from the entertainment and special education worlds.
Although Danny can’t do much in the singing and dancing departments, he nevertheless manages to make the most of his time onstage, and in the car ride home, communicated to us that he would like even more lines in future shows. Spoken like a true performer.
You can catch the shows the next two nights: Monday night, April 11 at 5:30 pm is the “The Wyzard Inside” a re-telling of the Wizard of Oz with a special twist and on Tuesday night at 5:30, “The Courage Club” an original play and songs written primarily by the teen participants that deals with facing our deepest fears. For tickets go to http://www.vistadelmar.org/tickets/