You really threw my for a loop in filling out this form. “Select a theme.” Are we artistic expression? Community engagement? Or embracing diversity? Personally, I think we’re all three.
Annie and I founded 4th Wall Theatre Company in 2012. Back then we knew one thing— the world of special needs did not have enough FUN in it. Sure there’s speech therapy, physical therapy, social therapy and on and on… but where was the empowerment? The enjoyment of it all??
So at 31 and 25 respectively, two young women, armed with a teaching certificate and a vocal performance degree, started a company; a mobile theatre for people with special needs. Within ten months we reached our five year goal, quit our jobs, and became accidental entrepreneurs.
More than five years later we have taught almost 7,000 people with special needs how to sing, act, and dance throughout the state of Michigan. Sending our more than 25 instructors into the field, two at a time, we teach classes that turn into performances for family and friends.
But we teach so much more than that.
We teach social skills. If you have autism, for example, the sequence of socializing can be daunting. But to rehearse a play? Ah, that’s magic. Stand here. Stay this. Wait for them to speak. Now say this. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. The progress is astronomical.
We teach friendship. On the first day of one of our classes a student told me “I have no friends. No one likes me.” At the end of our 10 week course he said, “I have 40 friends, look what we did together!”
We teach empowerment. After our first showcase, before Annie and I had any clue that we knew what we were doing, a student with Down syndrome came up to us, thrilled from their very first curtain call. “Miss Katie, Miss Katie, Miss Katie! They looked at me because I was good. Not because I was different.”
Theatre for all!