Carroll Gardens

VIDEO: DreamStreet Theatre, where ‘wildflowers’ shine

Special Needs Performers Star in Musical Revue with Overarching Theme of Acceptance

December 5, 2014 By Matthew Taub Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from Brooklyn Brief

It’s a place where those with special needs can truly shine.

For 16 years, Brooklyn’s DreamStreet Theatre Company has been cultivating a unique community of performers. Some 15-20 adult special needs actors, many who have been together for well over a decade, work with teaching artists and special guests in the areas of comedy, song, dance, music and improvisation, creating and performing original musical theatre pieces. Radio Dreaming” is the company’s winter 2014 show, to be performed Dec. 12 and 13 at the Jalopy Theatre in Carroll Gardens.

“Working in the theatre, I have always been amazed how the arts made such a tremendous difference in the confidence and socialization skills of special populations, including children and developmentally disabled performers,” said Aubrie Therrien, DreamStreet’s artistic director. “Working with DreamStreet gives a larger sense of substance to our craft, helping to really change people’s lives and alter false perceptions of an often misunderstood and underserved population.”

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At Park Slope’s Berkeley Carroll School, which recently served as a rehearsal space for the upcoming performance, participants reveled in their community and the unique space it provided them to express themselves. Recurring themes of “wildflowers” as personality types and acceptance of those who are different were consistently proclaimed by those gathered.

“Oftentimes, mental health care is underfunded, underserved and very much misunderstood.  We see this in senior centers, assisted living facilities, Alzheimer’s and dementia care, and special needs programing,” Therrien added. “Research has shown that the arts in general — painting, music, theatre, dance — are extremely beneficial therapy tools that enable both dementia patients and special needs populations to learn or relearn social skills, communication, confidence and combat depression.  However, it is a highly underutilized modality, and often expensive.”

The company was founded in 2001 by Karuna Heisler to bring the joy of theatre to special needs performers in a time when access to the arts was limited to those with unique abilities. After Karuna passed away in 2007, her husband and daughter, Len and Kendra Heisler, continued to support DreamStreet and Karouna’s legacy.

The improvisational and memorization work of the company pushes members’ growth and creates a unique and flexible ensemble of individuals who are supportive of and trusting of each other, allowing for cognitive and emotional improvements for the performers. Many company members who have been with DreamStreet since its inception have overcome various social and developmental hurdles through their talents, and have even gone on to earn guest roles on recurring TV shows.

“Radio Dreaming” will be performed on Friday, Dec. 12 and Saturday, Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. at the Jalopy Theatre (315 Columbia St. in Carroll Gardens).  


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