The Help Group’s annual performing arts program capped off the school year with the classic musical, ‘OZ’, directed and adapted by the talented, Jacqueline Schultz and brought to life by Village Glen School and Bridgeport School students. Performances took place at The Help Group’s Autism Center Theater on May 23 and 24 to a packed and cheering audience of families, teachers and school classmates.

The production featured a cast of more than 30 student performers who dedicated months of rehearsals to ensure that they were stage ready – and indeed they were. “I set the bar high for students and expect a great deal from them,” expressed Jacqueline, “Learning to make eye contact, addressing another person with intention and listening to your scene partner, all important lessons for a student on the spectrum, are addressed when rehearsing.”

In the 14-years Jacqueline has been directing student performances at The Help Group’s Summit View School, and 3-years of working with students throughout The Help Group, she’s seen how the performing arts can nurture a student’s self-expression and help them to develop imagination. “Putting on a long beautiful gown or a pair of red shoes allows students to make-believe, which frees them up to discover more about themselves. Seeing a young person discover strengths they didn’t know they had, is the great joy of being a theatre director.”

“The creativity involved in performing arts can open children to new ways of seeing themselves and the world,” says Pamela Clark, Director of The Help Group’s Autism Programs in reference to how The Help Group’s performing arts program addresses several key developmental areas for students with autism. “Learning skills in self-presentation allow students to build greater self-esteem, poise and self-confidence on stage and at school with peers; and students are motivated by a shared performance goal, which can help to foster a greater sense of teamwork, in addition to helping them develop responsibility, self-discipline and time management to complete a project from start to finish. Additionally, we see how theater arts promote characteristics such as empathy, interpersonal and social skills through a shared performance lens and exposure to alternative viewpoints.”

All of the on-stage set props were created and built by the young adults at The Help Group’s Bridgeport Vocational Education Center with art direction from art teacher, Tia Bruno and coordination and guidance from Voc. Ed. Teacher, Josh Ziskind. Musical direction was provided by Laura Stoltzfus. Nate Brown provided directorial assistance; costumes were the creation of Sarah Boucher-Cox and Jacqueline Schultz, and lighting and sound was overseen by Steve Holmes and Bridgeport student, Alejandro.

Our thanks to Jacqueline Schultz, our wonderful parent community and to everyone involved who helped to make this year’s student production such a powerful re-imagining of the children’s classic.

Hats off to our exceptional student performance artists for a terrific show ~ take a bow for your accomplishment!  (*Photos courtesy of parent Melinda Barlog)