Professor Helps Community Members Realize Their Theatre Dreams
With the help of a University of Colorado Boulder professor, a group of adults with developmental disabilities proved “all you need is love” to put together and perform an original, community musical.
For the past three months, Oliver Gerland, associate professor of theatre and dance, has led and facilitated a weekly theatre course for adults with developmental disabilities through a partnership with Imagine!, a non-profit that offers innovative support to people of all ages with cognitive, developmental, physical, and health-related needs.
“The course was educational in nature with a therapeutic emphasis on personal contribution and teamwork that culminated in a performance given by the participants at a local theater,” he said.
The ensemble performed an original play, developed through class input, called CJ's Karaoke Cafe on Feb. 24 at the Broomfield Auditorium. More than 100 peers, parents, friends, and community members attended the performance.
In "CJ's Karaoke Café," co-owners of the café, Charlie and Jamie, await the arrival of a Denver Post food critic when they uncover a threat left by a local gang, The Wild Scorpions. Karaoke regulars perform their audition pieces with the help of a voice-activated computerized jukebox named "Lindsay" before the food critic takes her turn. The hip-hop playing Wild Scorpions upset the peaceful scene until they are challenged by the Ghostriders, a rock 'n' roll motorcycle gang. It appears that the café will erupt in violence when Jamie intervenes and convinces the gangs that it's better to sing than fight and, with Lindsay's help, she teaches them that "all you need is love" by performing the Beatles classic.
“I should add that the group’s spirit is captured by the final song,” Gerland said. “They are very caring and supportive people who live the ‘all-you-need-is-love’ message.”
The play incorporated the participants’ inputs including: a setting that drew from several cast members’ work in the food service industry; a request to create their own version of West Side Story; and their expressed desire to perform to popular music, such as singing, dancing, or playing air guitar.
Over the course of only 20 hours of meeting, the group led by Gerland accomplished a robust set of objectives thanks to the participants’ dedication and collaborative spirit. They created a collective ensemble, developed the play from scratch, and overcame cognitive challenges to memorize lines and movements on stage. The group accomplished the overall goal when they staged the play before an enthusiastic crowd at the Broomfield Auditorium.
“We accomplished all that in 20 hours! It's crazy and completely wonderful! And impossible without the awesome support of Imagine!'s Out & About staff,” Gerland said.
The experience provided a unique set of challenges for Gerland as an instructor. To help with participants’ reading and memorization skills, Gerland prepared a CD for each actor on which he recorded the reading of his/her role, so that he/she could listen to the CD outside of rehearsal to practice lines, stage movements, and music. It was an innovative solution, but not necessarily new to theatre.
“In Shakespeare’s time, actors were given written ‘sides’ like these, with only their cues, lines, and stage movements. So by creating audio sides, I was updating a classical rehearsal technique,” Gerland said. “I never would have thought of this or done it without the opportunity provided by this project.”