Making a Difference
Partnership with Dad’s Garage Theatre builds self-esteem for adults with developmental disabilities
That Was Awesome! The phrase sums up the successful partnership between the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta’s Spotlight Theatre Company, a program for actors with special needs, and Atlanta-based Dad’s Garage Theatre led by Artistic Director Kevin Gillese. It’s also the title of the short film they collaborated on, which has been screened at numerous film festivals throughout the Southeast and earned an Audience Award at the DC Shorts Film Festival.
Through the MJCCA, Spotlight participants have the opportunity to be part of an enriching, hands-on theater experience guided by professionals. The ultimate goal is to help these actors gain more self-confidence, self-esteem, social skills, discipline, and motivation — life skills that are useful long after the curtain call.
I hope I can work with this group again. I’m inspired to do more.Kevin Gillese
When Kevin was first approached to lead an improv workshop for the MJCCA’s Spotlight actors he jumped at the chance. His younger brother Mark has special needs, and Kevin shares, “I had been waiting for an opportunity in my career to do something with the special needs community.”
“I wanted the experience to be impactful,” Kevin explains. “I thought if everyone could experience a real film set and see themselves on the big screen, they could share it with loved ones and have something that lasts forever.” He proposed partnering on a short film and penned a script about a floor hockey team, with a part in mind for each Spotlight actor.
Kevin based That Was Awesome! on his own observations and experiences with his brother. “The film navigates the complexities of adults with special needs, how friends and family can be overprotective, but how that tendency can actually deprive a person with special needs of living a full life.”
Kevin and the cast spent several months on acting techniques, doing improv exercises, learning hockey, and reviewing the script before filming at multiple locations for a week.
“I hope I can work with this group again,” Kevin declares. “I’m inspired to do more. The opportunity provided through the Spotlight Theatre Company is so rare and unique. And it was only possible with support from the MJCCA.”
100% of MJCCA program participants with special needs reported their self-esteem and self-confidence improved.