By Liz Castner
I am the Program Director for Daytime Moon Creations, Inc. I began volunteering with people with disabilities when I was 15. In college, I continued to do so, and made a close friend who had a great idea – why don’t we start a company that can offer theater classes for kids with disabilities? Right away, I was on board. And the rest, as they say, is history. At Daytime Moon, the company that my best friend, Jenna Gabriel, started, we have been offering programs in New York City for three years. In our current program beginning October 5th, children ages 10-17 will join us to play improv and pretend games. As we wiggle our way towards a higher comfort level with pretending to be someone else, our amazing actors will begin developing the characters they will play in our final performance. Our performances are unique, as we develop an original script to include all the characters the actors have come up with, and we are able to feature each child equally.
The incredible thing about our organization is that we learn more from every program and are always adapting to serve the needs of this population. We have a small group of staff who engage in self-reflection and make changes often, while listening to our volunteers and our kids. With our close ratio of teachers and volunteers to kids, we are able to give a ton of individualized attention to each of our actors. This also means that we are able to build a safe environment for our actors to interact not only with our staff, but with each other. Peer interaction is a skill that we are constantly trying to build and encourage in new and fun ways. Kids with disabilities are used to practicing stiff conversations with each other, or, more commonly, playing alone. At Daytime Moon, we help our kids to imagine and create together. They come to us to play in a world in which an author and a flower can talk together, a detective and a leprechaun can work toward the same evil goal and find redemption, and a number of different superheroes can dance and sing their way to a happy ending.
Three of our actors have been with us since the very beginning in 2010 – in front of our very eyes, they have transformed into superheroes of their own creation, secretly-alive museum artifacts, into a leprechaun, a detective, and a greedy king, and most recently, into an evil business executive, a Johnny Cash impersonator, and an attorney. These children may have special needs, but they have NO shortage of amazing ideas that they delight in bringing to life. Each of these characters was their own idea. I love being part of an organization that allows these kids to explore all the different kinds of people in this world and inside themselves. Each of us are able to understand the world a little bit better when we can take the perspective of someone else, and that is something we are working toward easing our kids into. I believe in what we do wholeheartedly, and it’s been so inspiring to see parents who bring their children back to us time after time.
Giving our kids the opportunity to develop their own character in the play helps them to be theatrical in their own way, and gives them as much agency in their theatre experience as we have as teachers. It’s not our play, it’s their play. Meeting our students where they are means thinking about what would be the most fun for them and having enough respect for their needs and their strengths to give it to them. Even if our actors opt to play “bad” or “evil” characters, we work with them to figure out how they will be redeemed by the end of the play.
Over the course of each 8 or 9 week program, we are excited to see children who were shy on day 1 bust out of their shells and share their excited feelings with us on day 6. We are able to see children who only wanted to talk about Johnny Cash at the beginning of the program coming up with the idea to play a detective halfway through. We see kids suddenly break out in different dance moves, walks, and accents for their characters that we have never seen before. These transformations are incredible, and only begin to point to the pure fun and joy that is exuded in each and every class and from each and every actor. We are so lucky at Daytime Moon to do what we love. For more information on us and updates on our current program, follow us on Facebook and check out our website, www.daytimemooncreations.org!