Fifteen years ago, Theatre Orangeville made a commitment to finding ways to break down physical and attitudinal barriers, nurture diversity and celebrate all abilities. Creative Partners on Stage was born as an accessible theatre program open to all levels of ability that lacked barriers that had been present in nearly all theatre arts programming to date. In 2011 that programming was expanded to include youth as well.
Originally developed in partnership with Kerry’s Place Autism Services and Dufferin Child and Family Services, the T.O.E.P. program uses music, movement/dance, dialogue, use of props, and other performing arts techniques as well as collaborative idea generation to allow participants to express themselves, inviting them to create stories through their movements.
I’d like to share the story of a now-young-man named Cole.
Cole started with T.O.E.P. in 2012 (when he was 12). The first time he came out, he wouldn’t come through the door. It was so new, so out of his routine, he just couldn’t bring himself to try. His mom was so determined, so patient, so sure that T.O.E.P. was the place Cole should be, they sat just outside the rehearsal hall door every week that term. Just being in the space. The next term, he was ready to come inside, but not really participate. He just watched. His mom and our Director, both such incredible advocates, kept trying. The third term, he came in. Now, nearly 8 years later, 19-year-old Cole is not only a regular in the program, but one of our most fearless performers. He has found his voice, his peers, his passion, and his community through T.O.E.P. and the impact that the program has created in his life is noted and measurable in all aspects of his life, not just in our rehearsal hall but at home and in school. Cole is just one of many individuals that have found a home in the T.O.E.P. program.
In 2018, Cole’s mom requested that we expand the programming beyond the secondary-school age (so there was somewhere for Cole to go when he aged out!). From there an adult version of the T.O.E.P. program began! At the onset of our adult TOEP program, ALAS (Active Lives After School) Dufferin and TOEP quickly became partners. Each term ALAS brings a group of participants to our rehearsal hall to partake in the TOEP program. Each week they all share in the transformative experience of live theatre and collaborative storytelling, one of the most basic of human experiences.
Generous community donations, and grants like this one enable us to subsidize the tuition cost of the program, keeping money in the pockets of the families that are very much in need of this type of programming. From the very bottom of our hearts… thank you for this grant and your commitment to making this community an inclusive and accessible place for all abilities.
Cheque Presentation Photo : Ingrid Watt, Theatre Orangeville development officer; Sharyn Aycliffe, program manager: and John Meek, grant sponsor. John is an active, widely respected leader in our community, a Past President of the Rotary Club of Orangeville and a strong supporter of the Headwaters Health Care Foundation, serving as Board Chair when needed most.