Seesaw Theatre puts on Third Annual Inclusive Theatre Festival


Photography by Ellie Levine, Courtesy of Seesaw Theatre

A workshop presented by Katie Yohe, a co-founder and artistic director of ABLE Ensemble, at the 2017 Inclusive Theatre Festival. This year’s festival will focus on the growth that has occurred in accessible theater.

Charlie Goldsmith, Sports Social Media Editor

It’s atypical for an actor to directly interact with the audience, but Lindsey Weiss is looking forward to having a conversation about accessibility and inclusion in the theater community for people with neurological disabilities. At an upcoming panel discussion at Seesaw Theatre’s Third Annual Inclusive Theatre Festival on November 17-18, the Communication senior said they are excited to share how recent positive developments have led to worthwhile experiences in theater.

“Creating a sensory-friendly room and a sensory-friendly performance space is something that’s very easy,” Weiss said. “But not a lot of people are interested in doing it because there’s an internalized belief that neurologically disabled people cannot benefit from arts programming.”

Seesaw Theatre — a theater board composed of Northwestern students — has organized the two-day festival not only to showcase the growth in accessible and inclusive theater, but also to discuss room for improvement.

The programming — open to the public — will feature a panel of artists, including Weiss, with similar experiences in theater and art. The festival will also include talks from professionals creating programming for differently abled and disabled students as well as researchers from Northwestern labs.

For individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities, bright lighting and significant changes in volume can be barriers that make it difficult to participate in plays or attend them, Weiss said.

Communication junior Olivia Zapater-Charrette, the event’s organizer, said Seesaw has worked with more than 150 elementary- and middle school-aged children this year. On that Saturday and Sunday at Norris, members of the club will be contributing to the discussion and sharing the impact of meeting certain accessibility and inclusion standards.

“We provide a space where children are free to walk about the space — they don’t have to sit down, they can touch everything,” Zapater-Charrette said. “You’re seeing theaters wanting to provide more resources for a wider audience, and its important for people who are taking strides to talk about the strides they’re taking.”

When the conference began three years ago, it was just a single panel discussion about good practices to incorporate into theater. But Zapater-Charrette said the club decided to include the stories of actors at Northwestern who can relate to the experiences of the children they work with.

Zapater-Charrette added that Weiss is ideal to share their experiences because of their extensive acting background. After graduating in the spring, Weiss has been casted to participate in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” which has a plot centered around a boy with autism.

“I’m looking forward to doing it immediately after graduation,” Weiss said. “It’s a play I’ve wanted to work on for a long time.”

Communication senior Rachel Seidenberg, the artistic director for Seesaw, has been working with the club for four years and said she is excited the event is open to the public so everyone can experience accessible theater.

She added it’s important people come and learn about the work the group is doing.

“I love the kids that we get to do this work with,” she said. “It’s important to learn about work you might not be doing and how that might apply to your own work.”

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