The stage is a world of possibility and that is why a play about friendship is giving students with special needs at Michael A. Riffel Catholic High School the chance to shine this week.
Larissa Linklater is a Grade 10 student in the Functionally Integrated Alternative Education Program (FIAEP).
“Exciting, I feel comfortable,” she said, describing what it’s like to be on stage.
Her face lights up when she describes a dance routine in the play.
“This is so cool, I think so yeah,” she said.
‘That’s Possible Theatre’ began at Riffel High School about four years ago. The inclusive theatre program pairs FIAEP students with mainstream student mentors who help them with lines, dancing and singing during the months of rehearsal. They also guide them every step of the way during the performance.
Marguerite Kryzanowski, the student support teacher, said this program is all about building confidence and self-esteem.
“It’s possibility. Their minds are opened, their futures are brighter, their self-esteem is higher,” she said.
“Their view of the future is brighter because they feel that they can do something that – before they just kind of sat on the sidelines and never really had a chance to participate as a full cast member on stage.”
While some of the students are not very verbal, she notes that they don’t let those challenges hold them back. The ability to express emotion on stage can come in many different forms.
“We find the right character or the right form of expression for them, whether it’s through dance or different actions – we make it possible,” Kryzanowski explained.
The atmosphere in the theatre on the last day of rehearsal was one of friendship and nervous excitement. This year is a particularly unique performance because the students and volunteer mentors wrote the play based on the theme of friendship.
“They talked about what it means to have a friend, someone that really they can count on, they can believe in, that believes in them, someone that’s not going to let them down,” she said.
In the graduation scene, the lines speak to the real message behind the program.
“I am graduating high school today. I’m very nervous about meeting new people that recognize my talents – that accept me for me,” one girl repeats clearly into the microphone after her mentor reads the words.
It’s a line that rings quite true in different scenes. During rehearsal, one girl whispers that she’s nervous before singing a duet with her mentor. But as she sings in the spotlight with her partner, she smiles, knowing that the people watching will accept her and cheer.
Kryzanowski said the collaborative collective writing approach provided an even better opportunity for the students to have a voice.
She sees a world of difference in the students who participate.
“Some of them you know four years ago were afraid to be in a theatre, let alone be on stage and now we have a student who has led the rest of the students in choreography.”
The students will perform for invited guests, including students from special education classes and FIAEP in elementary schools around the city. Kryzanowski said those kids already look up to the high school students and seeing them on stage is an inspiration.