By Jonathon Epstein, Transition Developer, Adult Day Services
In June of 2019, Jonathon Epstein began collaborating with Heather Baird and Hannah Allen of Atlantic Theater Company & School (ATC) to establish inclusive theater initiatives for actors supported by AHRC New York City. After months of planning and fundraising, they were ready to launch a workshop series–then the pandemic hit. Fortunately, all parties were fully committed and were able to quickly pivot to virtual programming.
The Atlantic Access Success Storytellers workshop series launched in October of 2020. Hannah led a team of four professional actors/teaching artists (Maylin Castro, Samantha Clark, Lauren Slakter, and Brooke Sweeney) who co-facilitated eight weeks of Zoom workshops that served 13 actors. The overall goal of the program was to create a theater ensemble to explore various modes of storytelling: acting, writing, movement, and more!
A Fun First Session
Significant pre-planning sessions and follow-ups were implemented throughout the process to ensure the initiative was shaped around the specific interests, strengths, and needs of actors. Families and AHRC NYC mentors were brought to the table to establish layers of support for the completion of weekly assignments and additional rehearsals. This holistic involvement meant actors had consistent support in developing and expanding their skills.
Rebecca Gross, a Community Support Professional involved with Storytellers, explained, “It was beautiful seeing how people with so many differences (staff, actors, people supported, etc.) all got to know each other, become comfortable with each other, and form one cohesive ensemble… Its success is a product of the unique combination of people brought together. It’s a testament to the terrific artistic and social impact which is created through well-organized, mutually supportive collaboration.”
The beginning of the Storyteller’s program focused on ensemble building. Each week, the group reviewed the ensemble agreement and showed their support through an enthusiastic chant “Ensemble we agree, 1, 2, 3” with a dramatic pose at the end. Creating space for actors to express themselves and connect with each other was an utmost priority. Sam Meyer, Assistant Transition Developer, reflected how the program “has been essential to reclaiming and maintaining lost socialization progress caused by the pandemic. The program gave [actors] the opportunity to express themselves and connect with other [actors] from other programs, which they would not normally be able to do.”
Skills were built through acting games and exploration of performing in a virtual space. When asked what his favorite part of the program was, Maximillian Warren said, “I liked when we did an actor’s warmup and tongue twisters. They get me ready to act and sing.” As part of the professional development baked into this program, each actor composed an actor biography. Teaching artists also worked with actors throughout the week to prepare for the end-of-program share.
The program culminated in a Zoom Final Sharing event on December 18th with a live audience. Actors each presented original character monologues that were created and rehearsed in small groups. The performance ended with the whole group performing the choreography they had developed together.
Further Developing Skills
A second eight-week workshop series began in February of 2021. Actors conti