standard DreamStreet Theater, Where ‘Wildflowers’ Shine

Special Needs Performers Star in Musical Revue with Overarching Theme of Acceptance
Entire Company of Performers in "Radio Dreaming" (Photo Credit: Kendra Heisler)

Entire Company of Performers in “Radio Dreaming” (Photo Credit: Kendra Heisler)

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 December 12 and 13 at the Jalopy Theatre in Carroll Gardens.

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Yasha Kaminer (left) and Mikey Lorch (right) take direction from Aubrie Therrien (center) (Photo by Matthew Taub)

“Working in the theater, 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.”

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 were different were consistently proclaimed by those gathered.

“Often times, 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 where 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 Dream Street and Karuna’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, December 12 and Saturday, December 13 at 7PM at the Jalopy Theatre, 315 Columbia St, Brooklyn, NY 11231 (between Hamilton & Woodhull)(F or G train to Carroll Street – 8 minute walk to theater). House opens at 6:30PM.