Vance Armstrong is one of the 13 Career Development Services (CDS) and Trail Association for Community Living clients involved in a new drama program that is putting on its first show this spring.

Finding a role in ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’

Organization’s drama program focuses on speech and movement development in a fun atmosphere

A group of aspiring actors are quietly working behind the scenes to bring Greater Trail “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

Under direction of theatre expert Helen James, 13 Career Development Services (CDS) and Trail Association for Community Living clients have been meeting for the last five weeks to work on voice and movement. This week, the group starts to write and practice their script for the first theatre production put on by the organizations that support individuals with significant barriers.

“You can see arguments between people who think they’re the greatest thing on earth,” hinted James. “The group together is working on a show piece and in the end you’ll realize that we ourselves are the greatest show on earth.”

James is a trained drama therapist and occupational therapist. She has worked with many local theatre groups over the years, including the Rossland Light Opera Players and the Columbia Phoenix Players, which she is currently the president of.

But this is the first time she’s coached a group of developmentally-delayed adults.

“This group of people is absolutely remarkable and what is remarkable about them as a company is that they are so kind to each other, they are encouraging of each other, they are never critical of each other, and they are always seeing the best in each other,” she said.

“Every session they turn up ready to work and they put their every effort into it.

“They are the most amazing group of people to work with.”

The drama program developed out of a client request and quickly morphed into a team effort.

The group is using CDS’s church for rehearsal and will be building not only sets but a stage for the facility just down the street from CDS’ office on Bay Avenue.

Clients like 21-year-old Keenan McLean are not only tasked with finding their inner actor but are involved in all other aspects of putting on a production from creating promotional material like posters and T-shirts to rolling up their sleeves to apply a coat of paint to the set and stage, which will be built at CDS’ West Kootenay Youth and Adult Woodshop.

“I’ve learned that there are a lot of interesting people,” laughed McLean, after the group wrapped up a Friday session that included creating a character’s identity based on a hat and playing hot potato.

“It’s highly entertaining, we do a whole bunch of different stuff.”

Beyond learning the fundamentals of acting and putting on a production, the group is exercising their voices and movement through team-building training.

Some of the performers are non-verbal and will have speakers on stage to help them with their parts.

“We have been doing a lot of work with speech and expressing ourselves and those things are always good for being assertive in social situations when they need to be assertive so they can express themselves in an appropriate manner and if need be, a forceful manner,” said James. “We’ve been doing some work around ‘Say that, but say it like you mean it!’”

CDS coordinator Sheila Adcock agrees that the program encourages individuals to express their ideas and feelings, which can be a struggle for some clients. Honing these skills in a peer-supportive environment speaks to the organization’s prime focus of inclusion.

“We suggested a theatre group might allow them a space to build their skills and networks but also to be able to show the community their abilities,” said Adcock. “So much of their world can be consumed with their disability-related needs and not so much to embrace their many unique skills so we wanted to give them a chance to showcase these skills.”

The community is invited to share in the excitement of the 20-minute show and meet the cast and crew after the performance, scheduled for April 11 at 7 p.m. Tickets, available at the CDS office located at 1565 Bay Ave., go for $5 each and include snacks at the end of the production.

CDS, which is governed by the Trail Association for Community Living, offers individualized outreach services, employment services, homelessness services, social enterprise supports, the La Nina Shelter and the West Kootenay Youth and Adult Woodshop.

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