Special Gifts Theater is bringing you the Wizard of Oz and Shrek on February 20th, March 5th and 12th, and April 23rd.
Special Gifts Theater (SGT) is the brainchild of Susan B. Field a former occupational therapist. In 2000, her two sons had left for college, she was feeling pretty lonesome and as she tells it: “one night during family dinner.. my daughter turned to me and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up…. I confided my dreams of starting a theater company for children with special needs.” Her children immediately set to work; her middle son designed the logo and her daughter named it. They adapted scripts to the children’s abilities, made fliers, printed tickets, did technical work, and taught their mother choreography.
Three years later Special Gifts Theater is still going strong. In 2005, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) were invited to evaluate the program. Ciai, Balcazr, and Feld described their observations in the December 2009 issue of OT Practice.
The school offers a 25-week program culminating in its yearly musical theater production. Students between the ages of 8-21 are matched with typically developing peer buddies who help them prepare for this show which more than 1000 community members attend. SGT has a 1-2 year waiting list for both members and for peer buddies. Goals of the program are “to motivate and honor the creative spirit in each individual” and to have “students experience the joy and enrichment that theatre arts can bring.” SGT, so far, has developed 19 productions that include The Music Man, Circle of Life, Willie Wonka, Annie, and Cinderella. Individuals who join have almost every sort of disability. This includes neurological deficiencies, chromosomal abnormalities, learning difficulties, physical limitations and the full range of autistic challenges. Over the years, SGT has worked with more than 55 children per season. For 95% of the children, SGT is their only extracurricular activity!
Since 2004, SGT set up space at Sunset Ridge School in Northfield. Occupational therapists help children with sensory difficulties deal with aspects of the performance such as the music, lighting, costume, or the applause of their audience. Stimuli – such as props or costume – are adapted to the needs of each child as are the scripts or songs. In 2005, reports were so positive that SGT started a class for younger members (children 3-6 years old).
Most families only pay 20% tuition. the rest comes from donations, grants, and fundraising events. Those who cannot afford it receive full or partial scholarships. To date, SGT has served over 1,115 children with and without special needs and has presented over 40 performances to audiences of more than 18,000 people.
Wrote one parent:
“Our son says that he’s ‘special’ because of this program, and it’s made him so much more confident. He talks about SGT all year long and really looks forward to it.”
A teacher said: “After challenging my students for six hours a day, Special Gifts Theater gave my students a chance to be themselves, express themselves, and ‘let loose’ in an appropriate environment.”
One volunteer became a mentor and, to mark the occasion of his becoming a bar mitzvah, chose to educate and involve his friends in his work with SGT. They assembled informational packets about the program, painted sections of the set and decorated banners for the auditorium. Instead of gifts, the guests donated more than $15,000. This peer buddy wrote that seeing SGT made a difference in his life.
Special Gifts Theater will be presenting the Wizard of Oz and Shrek on February 20th, March 5th and 12th, and April 23rd. When? Sunday, December 13, 3pm, Sunset Ridge School, Northfield
How about seeing the specialness of Special Gifts Theater for yourself?