Access to Theatre Allows All Children to Share the Spotlight
Access to Theatre (ATT) wants to make every child a star.
ATT, a program run through Partners for Youth with Disabilities, is an inclusive theater troupe that brings together a diverse group of young artists—kids with and without disabilities—to collaborate on a performance that incorporates music, theater, dance, visual art, and comedy.
The group will perform its totally homegrown show next Friday at the Boston Center for the Arts. It comes after a two-week residency, during which participants ages 13 to 24 work with professional, Boston-based artists to stage and write their own material.
This year’s installment is ATT’s 22nd anniversary, an age that is very significant to those living with a disability, says Movement Director Moe Finnerty. “You go from receiving treatment to advocating for it for others,” she says. To honor this landmark, the show will focus on coming-of-age themes such as birthdays, wishes, dreams, and transitions.
“The show changes themes and acts every year, and we never know the talented participants we’re working with until they arrive,” Finnerty adds. “Right now, it’s still in the development process. But the product is always absolutely incredible.”
Much of that success is thanks to the confidence built during rehearsal. Finnerty says 80 percent of the performers report enhanced teamwork skills before the show, and more than 90 percent report significant improvements in their comfort with meeting new people.
“This is absolutely one of the most unique theater companies out there because it combines the skills of those with and without disabilities,” Finnerty says. “It’s a really diverse, organic group of artists—and nobody’s helping anybody. It’s not, ‘Oh, isn’t that nice for disabled children.’ No. Everyone’s an equal, doing it together.”
The best part, she notes, is that every child gets to decide on his or her own voice. “When you have a disability, people don’t often ask you what you want to do, what you want other people to know,” Finnerty says. “Because they have a diagnosis—which really doesn’t mean anything—they’re pigeonholed. And when they finally get out of that mindset that we’ve pushed on them as a society, they can do incredible things.”
Director Deep Chinappa adds that his favorite aspect of ATT is witnessing that change take place. “They generate a newfound ability to work through challenges,” he says. “They can carry that skill with them long after the performance, into their daily lives.”
For each performer, Finnerty says, there is a distinct point at which all the hard work pays off.
“There’s this lightbulb moment,” Finnerty says. “The kids figure out that they have control over their own lives.”
Performance is free but donations are accepted. Friday, July 29, 1 p.m. and 6 p.m., the Cyclorama at Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont St., Boston. Learn more at PYD.org.