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CSUN's Teenage Drama Workshop Is Offering an Inclusive Theater Experience PDF Print E-mail
Written by San Fernando Valley Sun   
Thursday, 04 July 2013 03:05


TADW students rehearse a dance for 'Disney's Aladdin Jr.' under the direction of choreographer Candy Sherwin (front).

One of the goals of California State University, Northridge's acclaimed Teenage Drama Workshop is to expose young people to the magic and wonder of live theater.

This year the workshop is expanding its reach even further with a special sensory-friendly performance of "Disney's Aladdin Jr." on Saturday, July, 20, designed to make the theater experience accessible to children and adults on the autism spectrum or people with special needs.

"We rediscover the art of theater each time we assemble actors, technicians and new audience members for a show," said CSUN theater professor Doug Kaback, executive director of Teenage Drama Workshop. "This is an important moment in our culture. Just as the community at large has grown to embrace, for example, sign-language performances for the deaf and hearing impaired, our ability to reshape this sensory-friendly version of Aladdin for our friends in the autistic community signals a new movement as we join with more families to expand our capacity for understanding and acceptance."

The sensory-friendly performance is scheduled to take place at 11 a.m. on July 20, in the Campus Theatre near the southwest corner of the university located at 18111 Nordhoff St. in Northridge. Traditional performances of "Disney's Aladdin Jr." run from Wednesday, July 17, to Friday, July 26, including one at 7 p.m. on July 20, in the Campus Theatre.

"Disney's Aladdin Jr." is one of two productions CSUN's Teenage Drama Workshop is presenting this summer. The other is "Jack and the Beanstalk," co-written by veteran performers and TADW instructors Ronnie Sperling and Chris Halsted. "Jack and the Beanstalk" premieres Friday, July 12, and runs through Saturday, July 27, in CSUN's Little Theatre, also located near the southwest corner of the Northridge campus.

To make the theater experience accessible, slight adjustments will be made to "Aladdin," including the reduction of jarring sounds or strobe lights focused into the audience. In the lobby, there will be quiet areas and an activity area, staffed with autism specialists and volunteers, for those who need a break during the performance. Materials such as a play synopsis, photos of the theater, songs and a picture schedule of the day will be available for families to download beforehand.

"This performance reflects an exciting and impassioned direction for the entire CSUN community," Kaback said. "We are building awareness about autism and providing opportunities for individuals and families to partner with our community as we articulate our shared values of art, music, joy, education and inclusion."

Elaine Hall, a pioneer in the area of theater and autism, said she believes the 11 a.m. July 20 performance of "Disney's Aladdin Jr." will be the "first sensory-friendly performance west of the Rockies."

"CSUN will be setting the tone for L.A.'s theatrical community to make performances available for those who are differently abled," said Hall, founder of The Miracle Project, a multi-platform socialization program that enables children and teens with autism and other special needs to express themselves through music, dance, acting, story and writing.

"Many families who have children with autism and other special needs have never taken their children to a live performance," Hall said. "They are worried how their children will react as well as how other audience members will react to their children. They are worried that it can become a very tense, and potentially unpleasant, situation.

"When parents are assured that they will be bringing their child into a loving, supportive, accepting environment, their stress level is lowered," she said. "When a parent's stress level is lowered, their child's stress will often be lower, too. What CSUN is doing is wonderful. It is welcoming a whole community into a world they never thought they could enter."

Kaback said CSUN's Teenage Drama Workshop has always been inclusive, accepting students with special needs into its program. "But this is the first time we're really trying to extend that to our performances."

TADW started out 56 years ago as an activity for teens to call attention to the cultural resources available at what was then San Fernando Valley State College. Over the years, the workshop has grown into a nationally acclaimed drama program that draws teens from across the country.

The workshop is open to students entering grades 7 to 12. In the morning, the teenagers attend classes that focus on acting, voice and dance, and can choose electives in improvisation, musical theater and playwriting or the technical aspect of theater production. The afternoons are spent in rehearsals.

The "10-Minute Play Festival," scheduled for July 25 and 26 in the Little Theatre, exemplifies the integrated nature of the workshop, where students in the playwriting and improvisation electives collaborate to bring an idea from "page to stage" in six short weeks.

For more information about TADW or any of the performances, call (818) 677-5811, email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or visit the website Tickets for the shows are $14 for adults, $10 for children and seniors, and $10 per person for groups of 10 or more. Tickets are available through the A.S. Ticket Office at (818) 677-2488.

For a backstage peek at Teenage Drama Workshop, visit TADW's blog at