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Sense-ible Partnership

Story by Meaghan Alvarado
Photos courtesy of The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind

When Leslie Costello from The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (FSDB) contacted Kristin Pidcock at Limelight Theatre with the idea to offer a drama class to blind students, they were delighted to get started. Costello runs the Blind Elementary Music Theatre Program at FSDB, and saw a need and an opportunity for her students to “improve spatial awareness on stage.” Limelight’s weekly workshops are geared to kindergarten through fifth grade and are about an hour long and consist of physical exercises and icebreakers for ensemble, or team building.

Blind Elementary Music Program

According to Pidcock, performers see the stage almost as their soccer field. They are a team and must work together. Knowing where their castmates are on stage, and when to move, is critical. The students in the Blind Elementary Music Theatre Program must rely on their other senses, and the workshop with Limelight Theatre is helping them to do just that. They use other ways to assist physical movement too, like limiting scene changes and using clever blocking when setting up the stage.

Sensing Drama

Sensing Drama

 

The Blind Elementary Music Theatre Program at FSDB not only allows students to excel in theatre, but Costello notes that they also increase their academic skills, particularly in reading. Students who participate in the program show apparent differences between those who didn’t, even years after aging out. The things that these kids learn “are even more important to them as blind children, so that they aren’t afraid to advocate for themselves and to get out and interact with the world around them.”

Audience members often forgot the cast were sight impaired!

Costello points out that the workshop education, “is key for our students, both as individuals in their daily life, and to open up and express themselves onstage.” She goes on to add that after seeing their 2017 production of Seussical the Musical, “Several people commented on how impressed they were with how well our students were moving around the stage, doing dance numbers, being more natural in their interactions.” Some attendees even, “noted how they often forgot they were watching 50 students who were blind, which in an odd way is a high compliment.”

A social media takeover with Music Theatre International brought FSDB’s performance of Seussical the Musical some well-deserved recognition. At the end of the show, the writers of the musical, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, sent a congratulatory message to the students, which read: “To all the performers, all creatures and whos to the wonderful teachers and parents in slews we send you our thanks for this magical tale and congratulate all who can do it in braille! Happy Seussical, Kids Oh, the places you’ll go! We sure hope you have fun! Thanks for doing our show!”

The partnership between The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind and Limelight Theatre is made possible through the help of several grants. FSDB has one, and Limelight secured another – the St. Johns Cultural Council, State of the Arts Grant. The need for a drama class at FSDB has turned into a friendship with Limelight. It’s a mutual partnership, and the two even borrow costumes back and forth. Take it from Pidcock, “Lots of things can be addressed through music and theater if we could all use our imaginations and play together the world would be a better place.”