ATLANTA, GA (January 21, 2014) - Students with autism took part in the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta for the first time this past weekend. The musical theater event is a joint venture between iTheatrics and Musical Theatre International and gathered more than 4,000 students from over 90 arts programs around the country.
“A whole new world. A new fantastic point of view.” These words resonated loudly at this year’s festival. The 11 students from P.S. 94, The Spectrum School in New York City left their audience in tears following their performance of Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” and they received a standing ovation as you can see in the video below.
The song choice was spot-on. Through their performance, these students opened up a whole new world of thinking for their audience of adults and kids. The adjudicators who critiqued the performance were amazed. To see a group of students from various places on the spectrum work together to sing, dance and act was truly moving. Seeing the smiles on their faces upon witnessing the applause was symbolic of their sense of accomplishment.
The musical theater program at The Spectrum School would not have been possible without Arts Connection, an organization that is working to make art an essential part of education. The orgnanization connected the children with artists that work closely with them to bring out their inner voice.
At the Junior Theater Festival, schools perform a musical number and get feedback and coaching from Broadway pros. There are also large-scale performances and even an award show at the end of the festival. Although The Spectrum School teachers didn’t expect to win anything, the school took home two awards – The Spirit Award and the Freddie G Excellence in Ensemble Work Award! This was surely an experience these kids, their parents and teachers will not soon forget. The Spectrum School’s Principal Ronnie Shuster told me she hopes to communicate the value of a musical theater program to other special needs schools around the country.