KidsAlive! has established itself as a theater for children of all abilities. Our Kaleidoscope program has quickly become a benchmark for other performing arts organizations within our state and beyond. We are extremely proud and excited that in February of 2019, our Kaleidoscope cast of Lion King, Jr., an all abilities cast which features children with special needs partnered with typically developing young performers, coupled with a strong experienced ensemble to support them, will be the first of its kind to attend the Junior Theater Festival, the world's biggest and best celebration of young people performing musical theater. There are many worthy organizations who provide opportunities for children with special needs, and yet we feel strongly that Kaleidoscope is different. As our program has received more recognition and inquiries from others outside of our community, we have begun to realize that it is important that we identify what that difference is. What does it mean when we say that KidsAlive! provides performing arts opportunities for children of ALL abilities?
I think that to truly understand we need to take a look at the English prefix "co" which is defined as " together, mutually, in common" or sometimes even "jointly." While there are many programs who involve adults or typically developing young people to mentor others with special needs, at KidsAlive! our Mirrors (experienced young performers) become CO-performers with our Gems (children with special needs.) They work together to create one role, utilizing the strengths and abilities that EACH partner brings to the table, and mutually, jointly, they develop insight into their characters, their performances, and into THEMSELVES, that couldn't have happened if they were working as an individual. A traditional mentorship often asks the more experienced individual to guide another, and then back away from the picture, to give them the skills that they need to work on their own. In a performance situation, a group of children with special needs whose mentors take a back seat remains a performance of children with special needs. When the two groups merge together, and each becomes a contributing partner to the whole, the lines of demarcation disappear, and we no longer see, or experience, two groups of differently abled performers. What we see is a beautiful tapestry, a cohesive unit where everyone has a valuable contribution to offer, and thus a working model for so much more than that one performance. It is a living, breathing working model... for life.
Think about it: most educational settings thrust us into situations with only like-minded individuals. From early childhood we are separated into groups of children with similar ages, similar learning styles, and often, due to school district boundaries, similar backgrounds or financial status. Our childhood is often defined by grade level, reading level and more. Are you in AP classes, or special ed? Are you university bound, planning for tech school, or going straight into the workforce? These distinctions are understandable, as it gives us an easy way to address the needs of a finite group of people. But the real world is NOT finite or so easily defined. As an adult, our contacts are not limited (nor should they be) to only like-minded individuals, with similar ages, backgrounds and beliefs. We need to develop skills that allow us to interact with all kinds of people on a daily basis, and the biggest joy of developing those types of skills is that we come to realize that everyone has value, everyone has something important to offer, that differences are not something to be afraid of, but to be celebrated.
At KidsAlive! we work daily to level the playing field, to give all children an opportunity to experience the power of musical theater with others of different races, ages, abilities and backgrounds. These kids have an opportunity to recognize and benefit from the beauty that every young person has to offer, regardless of whether they are 4 or 17, black or white, poor or wealthy, verbal or non-verbal, ready and able to run a marathon, or confined to a wheelchair. And the biggest difference is they are all Co-contributors to the experience.
Our programming in general has developed into three distinct seasons: Fall, Spring and Summer. Musical theater production experiences are available in all three seasons. Fall and Spring we offer additional weekly classes to improve skill sets in the performing arts. Our Kaleidoscope program changes by season as well. In the Fall we provide performance opportunities to our more experienced Gems who are able to work independently on stage. In the summer Gems of all levels may be partnered or work independently, with a focus of learning the challenging dynamics of ensemble work, which involve a myriad of responsibilities in big dance numbers and learning to play multiple characters. Our Spring production is when our full Kaleidoscope vision comes to life, with partnered performers of different abilities in the named roles, working together to create one role, an experience which challenges traditional thought processes for both sets of performers and our audiences alike. While we always offer at least one, and sometimes two traditional casts with our Spring production, it is the Kaleidoscope production in the Spring which provides the most unique performance aspects.
Auditions for our Spring Kaleidoscope production of Mary Poppins are right around the corner, and as awareness of our work with children with special needs has increased, our numbers of potential Gems have increased exponentially. It is our mission to provide as many performance opportunities as possible, but there are two integral components in this dynamic, both Gems and Mirrors. While we have preferred that our Mirrors have at least one KidsAlive! production under their belt, current demand requires that we open the door for typically developing performers new to KidsAlive! to join us as Mirrors in the production of Mary Poppins. Auditions for both Mirrors and Gems will be held this Saturday, December 1 from 9am to 12 pm at Special Care, 12201 N Western. Additional auditions for our traditional casts will be held the weekend of December 15. Please consider joining us for this unique and life changing experience! More information and sign ups can be found online at www.kidsaliveokc.org. In addition, feel free to call me personally to find out more. When KidsAlive! first began, I had no idea that our Kaleidoscope would open doors for so many individuals. It has changed my life, and continues to be a source for positive change for everyone it touches. I would love to have the opportunity to tell you more about it!
Shawna Linck, Executive Director