Theatre and Autism: A Special Place for Special Needs

(gentle music) So I had the opportunity to join a team that was opening up a brand new performing arts center in a city that had never had one. I started something from nothing. I’m an actor, I’m a director, I’m an arts administrator, artistic director, and I’m a mother. The thing I’m most passionate about is sharing my love with other people. You know with a performing arts center it’s more than just putting on shows, you’re trying to engage the community, you’re trying to provide education, there’s just so much more. My name is Dana Brazil, and I am a graduate of the department of theater, I have an MFA in acting. OCA stands for Opportunity, Community, Ability, it is an organization that services individuals with special needs and autism. I have a theater company there called The Running Man Theater Company. I do what I do because I’m inspired by what I see in other people. I love musical theater, I love to perform it, I love to do it, I love to direct it, and I love to arise the passion in young people who love it too, and guide them. When I think of Dana, I think hurricane. This dynamo lady comes along and says, I want your kid to be an actor. It’s called OCA, Opportunity Community Ability, and this week, they’re getting the chance to shine on the big stage. There’s a lot of parts to this play, and we’ve been able to give them this whole new opportunity that normally is not afforded to kids, but with our partnership with the Dr. Phillips Center, we’re making it happen. Welcome to OCA Jones of the Four Ancient Camps. Our story begins at the famous… In 2015, the Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts was granted a grant from Florida Hospital to partner with someone to do some type of camp for individuals with autism. Through our partnership we were connected. Theater is replicating human life and putting it on a stage. And in human life, you have to connect. The number one thing that is really hard for people with autism is being in a social setting and making connections. (actors talking on stage) But to be on stage and to have a scene, you gotta have a connection. I would like you to see what we have going on.. So the things that we can do in theater translate to their lives. That family’s sense of acceptance, is overwhelming. None of my family members have been in acting before. I’m like the only child in the family that has done this. (actor chanting on stage) It’s a fun experience I get to learn, I get to be around other people. All these friends that I get to know, I love being around those people. Having that collaborative experience that is very intimate is something that they always remember and informs them in some way of moving forward. She has brought them pride, she has brought them confidence. She’s brought, built their self esteem and ultimately those families have gotten to have a normal experience. She makes us feel good. Out in the real world, I try to keep it all, just a little bit in. But on stage, no boundaries. And throughout that entire process, she never once asked me what their limitations were. She just continued to focus on their ability. It’s amazing when you don’t put boundaries on people or things, where they can go. I share everything that I know with these kids so I can best prepare them for the world. The experience they can gleam from working in the theater I think can really shape their lives. The discipline that it takes to follow through. Those are all integral pieces to being successful in life. I feel like in those moments it’s like that’s what we work for. Those are the moments in our lives that we work hard for, that we struggle for, that we pray through, so we can reach those moments of resilience. (clapping and cheering)

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