I Can Dream Theatre celebrates 10 years of performing arts for those with special needs

·3 min read
One of I Can Dream Theatre's productions, staged before the pandemic. (Submitted by Dennis Languay - image credit)
One of I Can Dream Theatre's productions, staged before the pandemic. (Submitted by Dennis Languay - image credit)

Montreal's I Can Dream Theatre (ICDT) is celebrating its 10th anniversary with the launch of a documentary that shows what an impact the group has on its members.

The Montreal non-profit organization provides adults with special needs the opportunity to develop their skills in the performing arts, from acting to singing and dancing.

"I want people to know what a little gem this is in Montreal," says ICDT's community manager, Merrill Matthews, who is also the filmmaker behind the documentary available on YouTube. He also wanted to give marginalized groups a voice.

The theatre company grew out of the academic program at Summit School, but Matthews says everyone soon realized that the program needed to reach out to people outside of the school.

Since then, ICDT has put together and performed one show annually with a cast of actors and actresses whose neurodiverse conditions include autism and Down syndrome. They memorize lines, remember choreography, play musical instruments and some even write their own songs.

"Don't judge people by their disabilities," says ICDT member Julie Myhr. The 20-year-old student has been part of the theatre company for five years and is featured in the documentary reading a letter, and through clips of her performances on stage.

She really missed going to rehearsals over the last year, but putting the documentary together with the other members helped her stay connected to them.

"It's like a family," says Myhr.

Submitted by Julie Myrh
Submitted by Julie Myrh

In January, Matthews asked past and present cast members to write a letter about what ICDT has done for them and then record a video of them reading the letter. He didn't expect to be so moved.

"What I got back, I don't have words," says Matthews. On Friday, ICDT members watched the film together.

Emmett, a young man with Down Syndrome featured in the film, talks about how much confidence he gained and that he now feels more comfortable on stage. That is a sentiment shared by many of the people in the documentary.

The confidence they gain doesn't stop at performing on stage, however. It affects all aspects of their lives.

"She's much more at ease to go into a new experience," says Jan Shantz, Myhr's mother.

Shantz has seen how her daughter's problem-solving skills have improved over the last five years, thanks to this program. But she doesn't want the education and experience in performing arts to begin and end with ICDT for adults with special needs

She wants to see more mainstream theatre companies integrate people with special needs into their casts and crews and so does Julie, who one day wants a career on stage and screen.

"You don't know what we can do," she says.

As for the next production, Matthews says they may have one in 2022 but they're still unsure how it's going to work. The cast and directors are still in contact with each other, and are planning for when they can get back on stage once again.

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