Robin Bennett
December 28, 2015

The holiday season brings with it the desire to spread cheer across the most precious faces: we spend hours trying to find the perfect gift that will brighten our children’s eyes or stand out in the freezing cold of a Michigan winter to feel the warmth of a glowing light display. This winter, 4th Wall Theatre Company found an opportunity for some of our students from the Down Syndrome Guild (DSG) of Southeastern Michigan to put a smile on faces at the Rochester Parade in downtown Rochester, MI.

img_0177Sharing the Good News

When the excited group of eight young women aged between 13 and 37 gathered together in the beginning of November at the Bloomfield Hills location of the DSG they were looking forward to an exciting six-week workshop of acting, singing, and dancing; little did they know that 4th Wall had more in store this Christmas. Miss KK, lead instructor for the workshop, invited the students to join the Welcome Circle, a tradition of every class where students get to know one another and the instructors, as well as learn more about the days activities and discuss the performance at the end of the workshop (every performance for a 4th Wall class or workshop is designed specifically around the students and by the students).

During the Welcome Circle, Miss KK announced to the group that for their performance this winter they would be able to perform somewhere special; would they like to be in a parade?!

“The group immediately went wild with excitement!”, said Miss KK, “ I think in many ways they felt like they were rock stars being invited to perform in a concert!”

When the circle finished “squealing with delight”, they began to learn the dance moves and sign language hand motions that they would use during the parade and the routine they would perform in front of a special panel of judges. The students practiced for the next five weeks of their 4th Wall workshop with their instructors, Miss KK and Miss Molly. When the parade date arrived, they were ready to spread cheer and show those judges what the Down Syndrome Guild and 4th Wall Theatre are made of!

What a Wonderful World

On the morning of Sunday, December 5, the group of eight student-performers arrived, supported by their instructors and families, to perform for the judges. Instructor Miss KK gathered the student-performers to give them a pre-show pep talk.

She said, “Remember to smile and have fun, girls! If you’re having fun then who else has fun?” And in turn, the group replied, “the audience has fun!”

She looked around the group and saw nervous faces, Miss KK responded with the understanding and encouragement that is the mark of all 4th Wall instructors; “If you feel butterflies in your tummies, what should we do with them? We put them on our shoulders so that we can fly!”

After a short wait in a crowded gymnasium filled with several other competing performers and hundreds of excited spectators, the group was invited forward to be judged by an imposing looking table of people opposite the stage. The sparkling costumes and fancy dance moves did not phase the 4th Wall/DSG performers; when announced by the emcee they took the stage proudly wearing their favorite colored 4th Wall t-shirt and black pants. They signed the words to “What a Wonderful World” with beauty and precision, making sure every person in the tall bleachers could see the words that they sang along with the music track.

As is true with all of our students, this group was happy just to have performed and to see the smiling faces on an audience that rewarded their hard work with a vigorous round of applause! These young women were surprised and elated when the judges announced the awards; they had created a special award to honor the hard work and beauty of their performance. The emcee announced the DSG performers as winners of the Judges’ Choice Award!

“[There were] tears and squeals of delight from my students as they each ran to show their families who all were standing close by glowing with pride as well. What a wonderful world indeed.”

Bringing Tidings of Joy

The group carried the glow of their families’ pride as well as a great sense of self accomplishment throughout the 1.2 mile parade route that followed. The weather cooperated and some parade walkers didn’t even need gloves and coats! All students walked the route and, because accommodation is so important at 4th Wall, a wagon was provided to pull students when they got tired. For each of these students the parade was an extraordinary experience for them and their families. Walking the route, each member of the group–including the instructors–were amazed at the width and breadth of the crowd in downtown Rochester: there were hundreds of merry onlookers!

This was the first parade for 4th Wall and for every student and their family, as well! Our unique theater program is constantly looking for ways to expand the reach that we and our 77 partners throughout Southeast Michigan have with the surrounding communities. We welcome even more partners and community opportunities in 2016! But for now, everyone at 4th Wall Theatre Company wishes you happy holidays and a blessed new year!