How ‘Theatre Adventure’ helps connect, inspire people with disabilities

Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 3:48 PM EST
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BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (WCAX) - A Brattleboro nonprofit is offering opportunities to people with developmental disabilities through theatre.

Since 2004, Theatre Adventure has been putting on shows and workshops for people who learn differently. It started when the founders heard about an Easterseals program in Pennsylvania that used speech and physical therapy to put on a show. After securing funding, Theatre Adventure launched as a summer camp and it’s been growing ever since.

Every Wednesday and Thursday, groups of actors meet at the West Village Meeting House in Brattleboro. It’s the Theatre Adventure program, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering people with disabilities through the arts. Wednesday’s troupe is mixed ages and Thursday’s is for adults.

“Quite a range in ages, from late-20s to 60s. And quite a range of challenges, and quite an amazing array of abilities,” said Laura Lawson Tucker, the director of the Theatre Adventure.

Despite differences in ages and interests, all the participants have something in common-- a love for theater arts.

“Theater is rich with opportunity for folks who really need support with social skills, communication skills and how to form friendships,” Lawson Tucker said.

Each weekly session is jam-packed with fun, from costuming to music-making and acting. But all of it, we’re told, is an effort to teach skills that are transferrable outside of the troupe, like decision-making, turn-taking and working with others, to name a few.

“I really love it. I love meeting new people and working with other people,” said Susan Mandell, a Theatre Adventure actress.

“Theatre Adventure Program gives me purpose and allows me to connect with my community. It challenges me to be an adult and be a role model to others,” said Brian White, a Theatre Adventure actor.

Many of the troupe members have been in countless shows before, and, have been involved with Theatre Adventure for more than 10 years. Staffers say the opportunity for imagination is a big draw.

“I prefer to play serious characters,” said Josh Blaushild, a Theatre Adventure actor. “I’m Theatre Adventures’ Brian Cranston.”

“You can be a different person, you don’t have to be yourself,” said Jenny Rainville, a Theatre Adventure actress.

For the past three years, opportunities for imagination, with friends, have been limited.

“I’m just so grateful for being a part of Theatre Adventure,” Rainville said. “During the pandemic, this has been a great program for us.”

During the pandemic, Theatre Adventure moved to a hybrid format, with some actors tuning in via Zoom.

“Whether they’re sitting there in the room with you or they’re online in their own home, they still stay connected and I think that’s the main thing,” said Darlene Jenson, the co-founder of Theatre Adventure.

Jenson’s son, Elijah, is one of the troupe members. She says, historically, he’s been very distracted by sound. These Zoom sessions have changed the game.

“Being online, he’s focused, he watches everybody and he’s not distracted. He’s completely keyed in to what’s going on,” Jenson said.

Whether they’re in-person or online, in Vermont or far beyond, Theatre Adventure seeks to serve as an opportunity for people with disabilities to connect and partake in something they enjoy, something, they say, is hard to come by as an adult.

“With Theatre Adventure, I have really seen a community of people who applaud one another for their own personal growth, are recognized within the larger community as offering really wonderful theatre to come to,” said Leslie Kinney, a teacher with Theatre Adventure.

Each troupe puts on a show once a year. The Thursday troupe performed “The Costume Shop” in November. The Wednesday troupe is performing “The Seeking Traveler and the Cloudworld” in May at the West Village Meeting House.

Click here for more on Theatre Adventure.