Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Spotlight on what makes a successful community

Students at Smithville Christian High School got a close-up look at community-building this week as they watched a local theatrical production called Spotlight.

Amateur actors from Bethesda Community Services took to the stage during this week's chapel to demonstrate how a successful community is created.

A community may struggle with things like crime, vandalism or homelessness but a true community celebrates the contributions of all its members and rises above the challenges it faces, the students learned from the multi-media production.

The actors, most of whom have a developmental disability, portrayed bus drivers, window washers, movie theatre ticket takers, actors, crossing guards and restaurant servers as vital parts of a successful community. The production also featured images of the various communities that make up Niagara, and video clips from ordinary people involved in community building, including a social worker, a secretary, a pastor, a teacher, a student, a parent volunteer and an artist.

Each one reflected on how even the mundane details of their daily lives contribute to the flourishing of their families, their neighbourhoods or their communities.

The actors also shared how they have personally struggled with things like stealing, lying or bullying, but how glad they are to be able to make a positive contribution.

Spotlight producer and music therapist Mendelt Hoekstra said the idea for the show originated with a desire on the part of the actors to give something back to their community, and is based on a script by St. Catharines playwright Ron VandenBurg. Often individuals with a disability are seen as takers and the production was a chance to celebrate the abilities of everyone. Hoekstra said he was inspired by actor Edith Homan, who once told him: "People think they have to help me but I can really help them."

The show concluded with the entire theatre company proclaiming "we are one," including the non-verbal member of the troupe, who did a quick change and came out wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the message.

The students of Smithville Christian High School gave the actors a standing ovation.

Afterwards, members of the troupe answered questions from the audience including how many performances they've done (four), where they're from (across Niagara) and whether they are having fun (yes).

The actors have been rehearsing for almost two years to get the show ready, Hoekstra said, and performing it always makes them nervous.

"But our audiences have always been appreciative of the actors' hard work and it just drives home the message, time and time again, that everyone can contribute to community."

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