In anticipation of a new session starting up on August 24, I recently talked to longtime Still Point Facilitator Laura Callahan-Hazard about her work with the Ravenswood Players. This facilitation of Still Point’s Imagination Workshop for adults with developmental disabilities is open to people from various agencies and the general public. We have been presenting original public performances of the ensemble’s work in the basement theatre of Ravenswood Presbyterian Church since the program’s inception in 2012. These performances are increasingly popular, with the last show, The Love Cabaret, having about 65 audience members in attendance.
Laura recalled that prior to that performance of The Love Cabaret on May 18, a family from the neighborhood saw Still Point staff on the street loading props into the theatre, and asked what they were doing. “We told them about the play – and they ended up coming to the performance and donating to Still Point!” It is precisely this type of community integration that we want to achieve with the Ravenswood Players. Still Point hosts a reception after each show, providing refreshments and sometimes hand-made art for audience members to purchase. These events also allow time for ensemble members to mingle with and receive recognition from audience members.
Laura volunteered with the first Ravenswood Players session, and not long after became the ensemble’s Lead Facilitator. There has been important growth in the program under her leadership. So much so that Still Point is pleased to be adding a second Ravenswood Players workshop in 2017, also taught by Laura.
Laura brings a rare blend of experiences and skills that make her an ideal Imagination Workshop Facilitator. In a blog from 2014, I elaborated on the fact that, as a child, Laura lived with her parents in a L’Arche home in Nebraska. (L’Arche is an International Federation dedicated to the creation and growth of homes, programs, and support networks with people who have intellectual disabilities.) Currently, Laura and her husband Andy have a shared living arrangement with two women with developmental disabilities, and these women are both members of the Ravenswood Players. With a degree in Directing from Barat College, Laura is a trained theatre professional who also has the knowledge, interest, and compassion to work with adults with developmental disabilities. Over a 16-week facilitation, Laura artfully implements a variety of storytelling exercises, improvisation techniques, and stage acting lessons which not only serve to create performances – but also to develop important communication and social skills in participants.
When I asked Laura to elaborate on some of the progress that she has seen in the ensemble so far, she remarked that two members, Lynette and James, reached a milestone when they were presented with their tenth participation certificate after The Love Cabaret – meaning they have performed ten plays with the troupe! She recalls that her housemate Lynette was so nervous before the first play that it was hard to even get her to appear on stage, let alone say lines. Now, it’s a completely different story. Lynette is enthusiastic about performing, and has had vocal solos in the past few shows. For Brian, another member, the program is an important tool for social networking, as the other participants were all new to him when he began. Originally reluctant to participate in discussions, over time he has become more and more forthright and direct in answering questions and connecting with other people. These victories, great and small, are part of what makes this work rewarding.
On a more personal note, Laura remarks that leading the Ravenswood Players gives her an opportunity to express her own creativity, and to enjoy a space beyond the mundane details of daily life. She revels in those moments of discovery that allow her to feel the unbridled joy of making connections that turn varied ideas and scenes into a cohesive performance.
Still Point staff is focusing efforts on raising the production quality of all of our outreach performances. Improvements in lighting, sound, and other tech support – even small improvements – are paying off in performances that are increasingly enjoyable for audiences. Laura confirms that the improved technical aspects of The Love Cabaret helped us to achieve our goal of truly letting the participants shine on stage. To expand on this vision, I asked Laura what would be her wish for the Ravenswood Players if there were no financial barriers. Her first wish would be for a large, state of the art performance venue. Another wish would be to regularly bring in choreographers or other performance professionals who have different skills to integrate specialized training into the process. Her final wish would be to re-do a project from the last show in which photos were taken of each of the participants, blown up into “head shots”, printed on card stock and posted around the performance area. “If I could do just one of those things for the group, I would have a professional photographer take real headshots of each of them. Then we could post them at every show – and have everyone see how great they look.”
Whether or not a Genie shows up to grant these wishes for the next performance, I am sure that the key ingredient of imagination will provide material for another great event. If you would like to see what Laura and the Ravenswood Players come up with for their next show, stay tuned to the Still Point schedule and to our Facebook page for updates!
by Anita Dacanay