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K-State Today

October 23, 2012

Barrier-free theater expands across the continent

Submitted by Sally Bailey

Sally Bailey, professor of theatre and director of the drama therapy program at K-State, went to Washington, D.C., to lead a daylong workshop Oct. 20 for ArtStream, a nonprofit arts group that provides arts experiences and drama therapy to underserved populations in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area. 

ArtStream was created by Patti Woolsey, who had worked closely and studied with Bailey
when Bailey was the arts access director at the Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts, prior to coming to K-State. Because of the popularity of the barrier-free theater programming that Bailey had created, there was a great need for continuity of her drama program as the youth with disabilities who had been involved in her performing companies grew up. 

Beginning in the early 2000s, ArtStream has expanded from two to six barrier-free performing companies — two in Gaithersburg, Md., two in Silver Spring, Md., and two in Arlington, Va. — along with many on the waiting list in all three locations. All companies integrate people with and without disabilities to create an original play through improvisation.

ArtStream also provides drama therapy services to wounded soldiers at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, people in hospice, children who are being adopted, children at special needs schools and after-school programs for children with special needs. They also are expanding into public speaking and self-advocacy classes.

Four arts professionals started ArtStream, which now has grown to more than 50 full- and part-time employees. Woolsey decided there was a need for training in the barrier-free method to get all employees on the same page.

Bailey was brought in to begin the program and everyone on staff was given a copy of her book "Barrier-Free Theatre." Among the topics covered in the training were K-State professor emeritus Norman Fedder's "Fedder's Four" method of constructing a well-made play, active techniques to help a group brainstorm ideas for creative expansion and bring them to consensus, concrete techniques for teaching improvisational skills to people who have cognitive impairments, and gentle but effective behavior management techniques to keep an acting company with mixed social skills abilities functioning smoothly.