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Youtheatre has a show for everyone

Neurodivergent actors take stage in Aesop’s Fables

Fort Wayne Youtheatre’s Aesop’s Fables features neurodivergent and neurotypical actors. The cast includes, front from left, Aly Celaya, Sofia Brown, Bayani Spradling, Amya Howell, and Sam Chrzan; and back from left, Jaiden Littlejohn, Unique Keairnes, Lydia Moran, Chloe Zuehsow, and Shae English. Not pictured: Olivia More and Max Casazza.
Anthony Gadson

Anthony Gadson

Whatzup Editor

Published March 29, 2023

Nowadays, theater companies often feature a sensory-friendly performance. Fort Wayne Youtheatre is taking the idea even further.

Instead of just one sensory-friendly show, each of their four performances of Aesop’s Fables at Parkview Physicians Group ArtsLab from April 7-8 will cater to those with sensitivities. 

“We won’t do any quick light changes or loud sound effects,” the show’s director Morgan Montgomery said. “Those kind of things are just startling. We will also do a touch tour before each show so (audience members) can touch the props and costume pieces as they go into the theater.”

In partnership with Audiences Unlimited, which is celebrating their 50th year of serving northeast Indiana, this show will be part of the Neurodiversity Project.

About half of the cast of 12 youths are neurodiverse, a nonmedical term that describes people whose brains develop or work differently than typical, according to Cleveland Clinic.

Finding a partner

The idea for the Neurodiversity Project came about after Audiences Unlimited, a nonprofit that brings cultural experiences to those with limited access to the arts, received a $10,000 Challenge America grant from National Endowment of the Arts to support Adaptive Narrative Theatre Production, pairing neurodiverse and neurotypical youth for a show.

“Audiences Unlimited is thrilled to partner with Fort Wayne Youtheatre to present this innovative program serving youth with diverse abilities,” Anna Ross, Audiences Unlimited executive director, said in a press release at the time the grant was received.

According to Montgomery, the program has worked so well that Youtheatre hope to make it a regular occurrence.

“It’s the first time we’ve done it, and we’re hoping to do it about every 2-3 years because of how well this one has gone,” she said.

Deliberate pace

Aesop’s Fables will be Montgomery’s directorial debut for Youtheatre. She just joined the company as director of marketing/office administrator in September. Before that, the Oklahoma native worked at Bristol Valley Theater in Naples, New York.

At Bristol Valley, she worked with summer stock theater, where she said actors rehearsed 10 a.m.-6 p.m. for five straight days, then performed. For the Neurodiversity Project, things are very much different since rehearsals began three months ago.

“At first, we only did once a week and now we’re at twice a week,” she said. “Very short rehearsals. We’re only doing an hour of rehearsals, and once we get to tech week, we’ll do two hours. 

“It’s purposefully short rehearsals so that they get in, they work, and they leave. It’s trying to mitigate doing too much, giving them too much information at once, because the processing of it takes a little more time. The whole process has been built around that.”

Things have also been going slower as this is totally new to many of the actors. 

“Most of them have never performed before,” Montgomery said. “It’s been kind of a mixture. There’s my neurotypical kids that are theater kids and have been with us for a while, so it’s been nice to pair them up with the neurodivergent actors that are experiencing this for the first time. They’re not only learning the basics of acting but overcoming their fears of performing.”

She says patience is paying off.

“I have seen so much growth,” Montgomery said. “It’s been incredible. Not only in what I’m seeing on stage in our rehearsal, but also in them as human beings. They’ve become more confident and really good friends. It’s been amazing just to see them blossom and come out of their shells.”

Getting Familiar with Artslab

Written by Youtheatre Executive/Artistic Director Todd Espeland, Montgomery says this production of Aesop’s Fables differs from a previous one presented by the company. Along with different dialogue, it will also only be 30-40 minutes long.

“It’s going to be a fast-paced kind of show,” Montgomery said.

Before arriving at PPG ArtsLab, guests can download a Social Story about the venue from Youtheatre’s website, detailing what can be expected. The Social Story details the building, where to park, where to enter, where to find the bathrooms, and more, all to make everyone as comfortable as possible. 

All of this is designed to make the show as inclusive as possible.

“This is the kind of programming that we think Fort Wayne needs,” Montgomery said. “When we started collaborating on this project, we pretty much decided that we were going to do what it takes to make it happen. Part of that is keeping the actors in mind and focusing on their experiences in the rehearsal hall. We usually have five weeks for a production and rehearse every day, but that stuff became less important and the experience for the actors became the priority.”


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