Theater and Inclusion – A Natural Combination!
Sometimes my passion seems to coalesce around a common topic. Happily, for me, this time the theme is theater!
As many of you probably know already, my entrance to the world of inclusion came through the stage door. I was the Education Director at a large youth theater, and in that role, I found KIT. Together we instigated an organization-wide transformational culture change. When I left my job at the theater, it was to join the KIT staff, and at the time, I worried that the change we had created wouldn’t sustain without me there. It’s now been 16 years.
Recently, I had lunch with a new acquaintance. She told me that she had read my bio, and she knew of my work at the theater. She shared with me that she had enrolled her son at that same theater and that it had changed his life. She said that the staff welcomed her when she shared that her son has autism, that it was the first activity where she felt comfortable leaving him and picking him up when it was over like all the other moms did, and that he had thrived there for more than 10 years, even achieving a lead role in a mainstage production. She said that he is now living in Los Angeles and auditioning for work as an actor.
I found it difficult to manage my emotions as she told me this story. It was an incredible gift to hear that inclusive practices endured and impacted young people long after I left. At KIT, we know that inclusion driven by one passionate individual is hard to sustain when that person is gone, so we are very intentional about systems change when we work with organizations.
My first insight about inclusion was that theater is a natural place for all kinds of kids to come together and create. Recently, our theater initiative, Unified Theater, celebrated the annual onstage production of the flagship program at Conard High School in West Hartford, Connecticut. The theme for this year’s show was the Olympics. There were scenes on topics ranging from curling to competitive eating. But, as always, the real subject was kindness and friendship.
Can you believe how many kids are on this stage??
All these kids signed up to be a part of an inclusive theater experience.
Now I am going to connect KIT and Unified Theater to another cool piece of theater news from this week. The La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego announced a new partnership with the National Disability Theater. This made me so happy because the La Jolla Playhouse education team has had a lot of KIT training, and they were also a Unified Theater regional affiliate. They are now taking their commitment to inclusion to the next level by working with the NDT. In a “full-circle” moment the theater where I started my inclusion journey is mentioned at the end of the article linked above. I can’t wait to see what comes of this partnership!
All of this theater activity led up to one of my favorite Sunday nights of the year – the Tony Awards! I think I was as excited about the Tony Awards as many of you were about the Game of Thrones series finale.
Torrie Dunlap is CEO and “Chief Inclusionista” at Kids Included Together (KIT). In addition to overseeing the organization, she is a thought-leader who shares her vision for an inclusive world through engaging and inspiring keynote presentations. She encourages advocates, parents, professionals, medical personnel, educators, ambassadors, students and after school program staff to use the tools of creativity and innovation to affect sustainable change in their communities. Click here to watch her TEDx speech “Isn’t It A Pity: The Real Problem With Special Needs.” If you are interested in having Torrie speak at an upcoming event, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and someone will get back with you soon.