In the spotlight; Starshine Workshop boosts confidence, fun for special teens

Photo by Sue Suchyta
Participants and volunteers practice performance skills onstage during the Starshine Workshop co-sponsored by the Players Guild of Dearborn and the Neighborhood Service Organization.

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN – While singing, swaying and speaking onstage, Starshine participants have fun, build confidence and learn stagecraft while preparing an end-of-week talent show for their families and friends.

The workshop is the fifth offered in the past six summers through a partnership between non-profit organizations Players Guild of Dearborn and the Neighborhood Service Organization of Detroit, a human service agency serving vulnerable populations.

The weeklong workshop gives 12 to 20 intellectually and developmentally disabled youth an opportunity to learn new skills, have fun and receive recognition for their accomplishments, said NSO Life Choices unit director Penny Thomas.

“The play is one of the high points of my year,” Thomas said. “I truly enjoy seeing our young people happy, proud and having fun.”

Integrating consumers in need into the community is an important part of NSO’s mission, and the Players Guild has made a valuable contribution with the Starshine workshop, said NSO Life Choices assistant unit director Jacqueline Raxter.

“The Players Guild in this collaboration with NSO has just been fabulous for the opportunity to get these individuals into something that they can really shine at and develop skills in different areas that we hope can take them further and they can move into their community with,” Raxter said.

“If you can get up on stage and express yourself and get that confidence, and then take that back to school with you or take that into your work for trying to be employed in the community. All those kinds of things are really positive.”

She said it is inspiring to see the volunteers who make the program possible, and to watch parents who might not have had the experience of seeing their child up on stage before.

“It is good to have these positive things going on for the staff of our organization, too,” Raxter said. “They see a lot of heartbreak and difficult stuff, so when we have the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of our clients closely and first hand it is a good thing for staff and the families that we serve.”

Participant Chakiris Thompson, 19, of Detroit, said he likes that the workshop teaches him how to present himself and overcome being scared up on stage. He said he also enjoys working as a team with the other participants and has made many new friends this week.

“You feel welcome,” Thompson said. “It is a good experience to work with other people.”

James Williams, 9, of Detroit said he has fun with the games and the music, and he likes to sing and learn new songs.

Sherrie Bryant, 22, of Detroit said she likes acting on stage.

“I am so proud and I am so happy to show my family,” Bryant said.

NSO caseworker Justin Shounia said Starshine provides their consumers with an opportunity they would not otherwise have to act. He said he likes watching the participants act in skits.

“It is a good opportunity for them and I think a lot of them are going to excel,” Shounia said. “Seeing Chakiris, one of my consumers, on stage, (who) doesn’t get out much, and seeing him express himself on stage really got to me. I am really happy for him.”

He said the participants gain confidence each day of the workshop.

Volunteer Julie Malloy of Dearborn, a musical theater vocal coach at Oakland University, is directing the participants’ onstage singing.

“It is a really neat group of kids, and it is so fantastic to be able to bring theatre to anybody that you can bring it to,” Malloy said. “I think that for us, what a great opportunity to combine (singing) with theater and dance, and seeing how all those meld together and to see them get really excited when the music starts.”

She said she loves to see the smiles and happiness on the participants’ faces.

“You can tell that they feel that they have a sense of accomplishment, and that is what the point is,” she said.

Volunteer Brett Reynolds used the idea of nicknames to introduce the concept of playing a character on stage.

“It is a way to break the ice, let us get to know their names, (and) to start to introduce the elements of theater,” Reynolds said.

He said while the students are shy and reluctant to do things that are foreign to them, but they have an unbridled enthusiasm once things get going.

“It was a way to get everybody to know each other, and to see the silliness and the playfulness of all of it,” Reynolds said.

He said they then added movements and gestures to the nickname game to show the participants how the actions help develop a character.

He likes that the workshop is about getting kids on stage and performing for their parents, and there is not the competition between participants for roles like there often is in a traditional youth theater program.

He said they are also introducing them to the creative aspects of producing theater beyond performance. He had participants draw a picture of how they imagined themselves onstage, and then explained how renderings become costumes, set designs and stage lighting.

He said they tried to keep the teacher to student ratio low so they could have a lot of one-on-one time with the youth during the learning process.

“My biggest wish and hope is that we will do more of this and that we will have more people involved next year so we can have more of that one-on-one experience with people,” Reynolds said. “It is an extraordinary program.”

John Sczomak of Dearborn, a PGD past president and active volunteer, as well as an NSO assistant unit director, is pleased with the workshops.

“I am thrilled that I was able to have two groups connect,” Sczomak said. “I am thrilled that these kids are getting (this) opportunity.

“It’s incredibly gratifying that so many people have stepped up and done things for them. The NSO people provide all the logistical support, and they go way out of their way and incredibly busy lives at NSO because this is important to them, and I cannot say enough about the Players Guild people in terms of volunteering their time.

“They bring their talents, their passions and it goes on to the kids, and the kids pick up on that.”