Breaking down the barriers of autism

For the past few weeks, Kim Denness-Thomas has been putting together pieces of an elaborate puzzle.

Patrick Dwyer performs in Mosaic Learning Society and Tumbleweeds Theatre production of Peter Pan in 2010.

Patrick Dwyer performs in Mosaic Learning Society and Tumbleweeds Theatre production of Peter Pan in 2010.

For the past few weeks, Kim Denness-Thomas has been putting together pieces of an elaborate puzzle.

The puzzle involves 27 actors between the ages of 10 and 22, who are preparing to take the stage for two upcoming performances in Victoria. Fourteen of them have varying degree of autism, but they break down the barriers of their disability every time they step on stage.

“It’s not about putting kids with autism into our productions, it’s about actors getting a chance to express themselves in the arts no matter where they come from,” said director Denness-Thomas, noting the bulk of performers have been together for the last 10 years.

“In some ways, working with kids on the (autism) spectrum allows for freedom. There is no ego, there’s just total immersion in the work, which is different than typical teenagers.”

The production is a combined effort between the Tumbleweeds Theatre Company and Mosaic Learning Society (a non-profit group that supports and educates children and youth on the autism spectrum), that partner every two years for a main stage show.

This year’s play, Brahm and the Angel, written and directed by Barbara Poggemillar, is based on a beloved South African folk tale about a young boy’s magical quest to make sense of his world, which Denness-Thomas notes parallels the work the learning society does with its kids every day.

According to Denness-Thomas, the integrated cast performs with passion and skill, and once onstage, the division between the Mosaic and Tumbleweed actors disappears as they are brought together by their strength as performers.

The show, however, does have its quirks. The cast has been doubled to include two main leads that are swapped partly through the play. And in order to rehearse for the production, the show was divided into pieces so the group didn’t need to be together all the time.

The biggest challenge, said Denness-Thomas, is working with a group of actors who have different social cues, but everyone is capable of delivering their own lines. The actors have been buzzing for weeks about their upcoming performance, she added.

“There’s so much pride. It’s a group that really cares and respects and loves each other. The theatre is really important to them,” said Denness-Thomas, noting theatre encourages the children to break down the barriers of autism.

“There’s nothing that I have done that’s more special than this group. They get up on stage and you give the show to them. I just sit back and watch where they take it and it’s just the most amazing thing. You see them have a voice and you see their confidence brimming and you see that’s going out into the world beyond theatre.”

The theatre troupe began as a way to teach autistic children social skills and concepts, such as facial recognition, body language and language interpretation. After almost more than a decade, the troupe has become Mosaic’s longest-running and most successful program, with performances at local events and professional autism conferences. Past performances in Victoria include Peter Pan, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and A Little Help from our Friends.

Brahm and the Angel will run June 3 and 4 at the Metro Theatre. Tickets are $13. For more information visit mosaiclearning.org.

 

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Everett Bumstead (centre) and his crew share a picture from a tree planting location in Sayward on Vancouver Island from when they were filming for ‘One Million Trees’ last year. Photo courtesy Everett Bumstead.
The tree planting life on Vancouver Island features in new documentary

Everett Bumstead brings forth the technicalities, psychology and politics of the tree planting industry in his movie

Scaredy Cats television series has turned Empress Avenue in Fernwood into a Halloween themed neighbourhood. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
PHOTOS: Trick or treat! Halloween comes to Fernwood in January

New television series Scaredy Cats filming in Victoria

Cindy Foggit plays the lead role of Eliza in Passion and Performance’s film production Eliza: An Adaption of a Christmas Carol. (Courtesy of Rachel Paish)
Victoria adult dance studio releases modern adaption of A Christmas Carol

Instead of usual stage performance, dance studio turns to film

There are many options for enjoying a meal out locally during Dine Around and Stay in Town, on now through Feb. 7. (10 Acres Commons)
Dine Around Stay in Town Victoria carries added importance during pandemic

Special menu items for eat in or takeout/delivery, staycation deals available through Feb. 7

Peter Crema and Harmony Gray (from left), past participants of the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s Code Switching teen art group, at work in ArtLab in 2019. The NAG will be expanding the space thanks to a $75,000 arts infrastructure program grant. (Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo Art Gallery, Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre receive new arts infrastructure funding

Province announces recipients of funding through B.C. Arts Council program

Ty Wesley, Nicole Darlington and Cameron Macaulay (from left) performed in the Beholder Entertainment production <em>Gender Sucks!</em> in the 2020 Nanaimo Fringe Festival. (Video still courtesy Sam Wharram)
Nanaimo Fringe Festival artist lottery open to local and B.C. playwrights

Organizers hope to stage plays in-person at indoor and outdoor venues this summer

Canadian singer-songwriter-actor Joëlle Rabu will join her son, Nico Rhoades, for a livestream performance courtesy the Tidemark Theatre Jan. 29. Photo submitted
Mother/son powerhouses Joelle Rabu and Nico Rhodes join forces for Island livestream

Campbell River’s Tidemark Theatre hosts online music revue

Dr. John Hooper is the new conductor of Island Voices. Photo supplied
Island Voices welcomes new conductor

Dr. John Hooper to lead mid-Island based choir

Jorie Benjamin does a modern dance performance to ‘La Vie en rose’ by Édith Piaf, Louis Gugliemi and Marguerite Monnot, choreographed by Elise Sampson during the Cowichan Music Festival’s Highlights Concert at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre on March 1, 2020. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Cowichan Music Festival cancelled for 2021

The festival had already been limited to solo performances only for 2021

<em>Chinook Salmon: Breaking Through</em> by B.C.’s Mark Hobson was selected among 13 entries as the winner of the Pacific Salmon Foundation’s Salmon Stamp Competition.
Stained-glass lighting casts a win to B.C. salmon artist

Painting of chinook is Mark Hobson’s third win in annual contest

Apollonian means “serene, calm, or well-balanced; poised & disciplined”. The natural photo art for the album includes Vancouver Island mountains, rivers and beaches. Scenes from the Cowichan River, Witchcraft Lake, Pipers Lagoon, Wall Beach and other popular Island recreation destinations accentuate the album. (RICHIErichieRichie Music Publishing photo)
Serenity Now! Richie Valley debuts third LP dubbed Apollonian

Apollonian means “serene, calm, or well-balanced; poised & disciplined”

Most Read