DramaWay: A Way for Everyone to Experience the Creative Arts
The creative arts have a profound impact on us all. Whether you are artist or audience, whether it is a song, dance, or movie, the arts stir emotions in such a way that cannot be duplicated. All ages and cultures are enriched by it. For those with special needs, creating art presents practical challenges. Having a creative outlet is important for us all, and is something that should be available to every person. An organization in Toronto is ensuring that is the case.
Six years ago, I was looking to gain teaching experience through volunteer work. I discovered DramaWay (dramaway.com), a centre providing arts programs at various locations around the city of Toronto. These classes specialize in participants with special needs. There are a variety of creative arts courses for students to try. Those itching to get moving can try RhythmWorks, which looks at movement, musicality, and performance. Original choreography is implemented and practiced weekly. If music piques your interest, SingingWorks is taught by independent vocalists and professional performers who spend the time needed with participants to address their individual needs. The weekly classes lead up to an Open Class Presentation for family and friends to watch. These programs are available for anyone aged 14 and older.
For those with a love for drama, DramaWorks engages people in a variety of drama games. I was mainly involved in this group, which meets weekly to prepare for a grand final production. That year, we performed together at Nathan Philips Square. It was a surprisingly complex production, and I will never forget the talks I had with the family and friends of the special needs students. They were teary-eyed and overjoyed. I discovered just how much these classes meant to those students. Thanks to their weekly sessions, they had been performing better at school, were more engaged at home, and were noticeably happier overall in their lives.
The classes are always structured to remain focused on the participants’ abilities and not the challenges they face. Students are able to tackle parody and complex shows, allowing for a full display of their wit, energy, and skills. In 2013, the DramaWorks class prepared a presentation of Snow White’s Ever After, an original sequel to the fairy tale that also incorporated issues pertaining to the environment and labour. The performers spent weeks learning the choreography, lines, songs, and staging to bring the show to life. From my time there, I saw how much the story and themes meant to the students as they prepared and finalized the show they would be performing. They wanted to prove just how talented they are to their friends, family, and themselves. During more emotionally draining classes, the instructors were always ready to provide pep talks and emotional support as needed. Through all the ups and downs, the process was a display of the human spirit and of how seemingly overwhelming obstacles can be overcome.
DramaWay has been using the creative arts to enrich the lives of youth with special needs since 1999. What started as a small program with five participants has grown to 14 programs throughout the Greater Toronto Area. They operate out of various schools and community centres. Those looking to enroll in classes or volunteer themselves can do so through their website. I look back on my time there and cannot help but smile. It helped me see the universal power of the creative arts.
Council of Ontario Drama and Dance Educators. “DramaWay’s Annual Youth and Adult’s with Special Needs Multi-Arts Showcase 2013.” http://code.on.ca/blog/dramaways-annual-youth-and-adults-special-needs-multi-arts-showcase-2013