Youth Drama For All, the Mountain View-based nonprofit theater group comprising students with disabilities, plans to launch two new programs this spring, using the Kiwanis Club of Los Altos grant it received. Kiwanis is a global organization of volunteers dedicated to changing the world one child and one community at a time, with its first branch established in Los Altos in 1947.
Last year’s Kiwanis grant enables Youth Drama For All to launch an Ambassador program for those over age 18 with two years of experience in the youth theater, and a Teen Leader program for ages 13-17 with two years of the same experience, according to Sue Voiss, founder of the troupe.
The Ambassador program is designed to encourage special-needs and neuro-typical adults to interact with one another and with the community at their best level, wearing the title of “Ambassador.” Participants will embrace “Aspire” as their theme, Voiss said.
The Teen Leader program helps special-needs and general-education students improve their communication skills and cultivate acceptance of their diversity and differences. Their motto is “Imagine,” Voiss noted.
“We have already informally started the Ambassador and Teen Leader programs but plan to formally start in late March or April of this year,” she said. “Informally meaning that we have announced these programs and have asked who may be interested. We will do a formal kick-off as soon as we get our new logo and can order name badges for distribution at one of our events.”
While excited about the new programs, Voiss also expressed a sense of achievement about the growth of Youth Drama For All over the past decade.
Looking back, Voiss said Youth Drama For All started in her living room in 2007, when her daughter Tessa hesitated to join her school’s drama group in sixth grade because her friend, who had a physical disability, was worried about falling off the stage.
Voiss rewrote a script for the two girls and other children to perform at home, converting “Beauty and the Beast” into “Belle, Her Sister and the Beast” because Tessa’s best friend also wanted to wear a fancy dress.
Shortening the script considerably, Voiss also added lines that reflected the performers’ interests. For instance, one actress liked the Coast Guard, so the script had a line about one of the books in the Beast’s library relating to the U.S. Coast Guard. She also inserted jokes that one boy liked.
During rehearsals, several classmates and other children joined.
Parents of the other children helped stage a live performance with props, music and curtains hanging from PVC pipe. A total of 10 actors, eight with special needs, performed for an audience of 21 in the Voiss family’s living room.
Voiss soon teamed up with another parent, Stacy Rademacher, to hold rehearsals and performances at a local elementary school. They both quickly took on the roles of director and producer.
With a cast of usually more than 45 actors, Youth Drama For All holds practices at local elementary schools. It presented its most recent annual performance at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.
For more information on Youth Drama For All, visit ydfadrama.org.