Center for Applied Drama & Autism - Our Philosophy
Our goal is to meet our students where they are now, and without coercion, help them to recognize their own abilities and gifts through empowerment and making connections. We do not wish to change the uniqueness of each student, but rather help each one deal with social and emotional situations that will occur throughout their lives.  

We do this via individual and collaborative applied drama techniques such as theatre games, improvisation, role play, character study, voice and body work, mask work (commedia dell'arte), and Play Back Theatre.  Additionally, we encourage creativity and originality through student created puppet plays, play-writing and video production.  Visual art, dance and music are all key components in theatrical productions and give our students an opportunity to expand their artistic gifts and interests.

Throughout history, drama/theatre has not only been used to entertain, but also to create personal, emotional, and social awareness.  Play (or "The Work," as we actors call it) is in itself an act of self discovery.  How we move, speak, feel, connect, and act as a character draws on our understanding of ourselves and how we fit into the world around us.  We can explore situations that frighten us through the safety of play-acting.  We can become a different person who is confident and empowered, enabling us to face situations that baffle us.  With time we begin to realize these characters come from us.  It can be through this realization that we develop the skill to enact situations for the stage and for real life. 

The latest research in brain development in persons with autism suggests that mirror neurons can serve to connect observations and actions, providing an intrinsic sense of self and other, a sense that is often weak and unstable in persons with autism. Drama techniques may build and strengthen neural pathways: 

Laura and Wendy are particularly grateful for the work of Lee R Chasen, a drama therapist and co-founder of Kid Esteem School in Long Island, NY. We have discovered great insights within both his books and have incorporated a number of his discoveries and techniques within our own work.  Our other influences/teachers include (but are not limited to):  Viola Spolin, Augusto Boal, ​ Leonard Pitt, Faction of Fools, Chicago dell'ArteGale McNeely, James Slowiak & Jairo Cuesta of New World Performance Lab.​

We thank James Slowiak and The Center for Applied Theatre and Active Culture who provided us with a temporary home at the Balch Street Theatre and for providing fiduciary oversight as we work toward obtaining our own non-profit status. We are honored to find a place under CATAC's non-profit umbrella, where we can create new programming to meet the needs of young people on the spectrum and their families within the greater Akron community. 

We would also like to thank Melanie Y.C. Pepe, educational director at Weathervane Playhouse, who gave us the opportunity to develop our first workshop:  "All the World's a Stage for Kids on the Spectrum."  

Most of all, we are grateful to our students, past and present, who continue to inspire us as we discover the joy in playing silly games and creating funny characters together.

 "Mirror neurons fire for all perceived actions, emotions and intentions. Theater and drama mirror targeted aspects of the human condition. When you hold a mirror up to another mirror, you gain access to sides of yourself you are not usually able to see." 

  -- Lee R. Chasen, Engaging Mirror Neurons to Inspire Connection and Social Emotional Development in Children and Teens on the Autism Spectrum