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Shopworks Theatre Company Troupe helps participants flourish

ThisWeek Community Newspapers - 3/29/2018

Parents more often than not cry when they attend performances of Shopworks Theatre Company.

But it's a good cry, said Cary Johnston, founder of the program for people with developmental disabilities.

Moms, dads and caregivers are deeply moved, Johnston said, when they watch people with autism and other conditions singing and dancing in theatrical productions they helped create.

"Maybe it's the first time they've seen their adult child ... be comfortable and be proud," Johnston said.

That's definitely the case, said Kathie Skamfer of Gahanna, whose daughter, Kristin, has been in the Shopworks troupe since 2013.

"It's given her a lot of confidence," Skamfer said. "It's certainly increased her vocabulary. She has much more ease in her public-speaking abilities. She's easier in crowds now.

"She's got a lot more pride. She's just really blossomed."

Grove City resident Gavin French, a communications associate with advocacy organization Voices for Ohio's Children, echoed Skamfer's sentiments.

French said his sister, Kayle, who has a "genetic condition that affects all aspects of her daily life," has been a Shopworks participant for about six years.

"Most programs for people with disabilities are the exact same," French wrote in an email. "The participants are often left out of the community's eyes and work to preform menial tasks. That's where Shopworks stands out.

"Kayle and her friends are able to create a drama production from beginning to end. They pick the play, lines and cast. They create costume and sets, and then put on the production."

Shopworks was created in 2010 and grew out of Johnston's work with CORI Care, a 20-year-old Northland-based business that provides services for people with developmental disabilities.

Johnston had been a caregiver-case manager for a woman with autism when her boss at CORI Care learned she was also an artist, and she started a two-dimensional art program for clients.

"That was good, but it really wasn't getting people motivated as quickly as I wanted them to be," she said.

Johnston, who lives in the Weinland Park neighborhood, traveled to Minneapolis after learning about a large-scale theater program for people with developmental disabilities and picked up techniques to apply back home.

Initially, Shopworks productions took place at the Columbus Civic Theater in Clintonville, but the troupe quickly outgrew the converted gas station. For a time, it operated out of space donated by MadLab Theatre in downtown Columbus.

For the past three years, Shopworks has been based at a strip shopping center on Mediterranean Avenue in the Continent in north Columbus, with another nearby storefront offering storage for sets and costumes, Johnston said.

The troupe currently is rehearsing "The Wizard of Neverland," which Johnston said is a mashup of "Peter Pan" and "The Wizard of Oz."

"This population gets to see each other as performers," Johnston said. "We do an autograph session after. It's like their social capital goes up, and that's rare with this population."

Shopworks currently has 27 participants and four staff members, including Neil Allison. He came on board four years ago as the first guest director for a production of "Oliver." He subsequently joined the staff.

"I kind of fell in love," Allison said. "This is like the best job I've ever had. It doesn't even feel like a job. These guys, they make you laugh, make you happy.

"It's just a joy to be here."

"The Wizard of Neverland" will be staged at noon April 2, 4, 9, 11, 13, 18 and 20 at the troupe's headquarters, 1037 Mediterranean Ave., Columbus. Evening performances are scheduled at 6:30 p.m.April 11, 12, 17 and 20.

Donations of $3 per ticket go to the Creative Fountain nonprofit wing of the program.

For reservations or more information, call 614-896-6381.



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