Alumna’s Barrier-Free Theatre company stages two original one-act plays

McDaniel alumna Britt Burr (third from left) directs her Barrier Free Theatre company members (left to right) Chris Schaeffer, Alex White, Britt Burr, Gary Boyle, John Nuzzo, Shelley Turner.
December 05, 2017

Applause rings out among the Barrier-Free Theatre Company members at the start of the regular Monday evening play rehearsal when director, producer and company founder Britt Burr ’11 announces the first “off book” night.

With opening night of “Dispatch” and “Plant It” a little over two weeks away, these actors have not a moment to spare. They’ve worked with Burr, a drama therapist who majored in Psychology and Theatre Arts at McDaniel, since September to create an original one-act play through improvisational exercises and drama games. But the concept is theirs, as are the story, the script and the staging.

Every one of these thespians are adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and/or autism. They meet in two groups, one on Monday evenings and the other on Wednesday evenings.

The Barrier-Free Theatre model is just what the name implies — the process of creating and performing breaks down the barriers and helps these adults acquire the social skills, group collaboration, creative thinking and confidence they can use in life. The model was founded by Burr’s mentor, professor Sally Bailey at Kansas State University, where Burr received her master’s in Drama Therapy, and Burr brings it to the Carroll County community with permission and extensive training.

“Through theatre they are working on transferable skills they can use in the real world — for jobs but also for life,” says Burr, who is pursuing her Ph.D. in Expressive Arts Therapies. “When you build something together and show it to the world — like each group has created a play — there’s a deep kinship that develops and shared pride of ‘hey, we made this.’”    

Besides, it only takes a quick look around the room to realize that beyond its value in life skills, this is fun. Often laugh-out-loud fun.

Volunteer Gary Jolbitado prompts actors who are still learning their lines between his own in the play, delivered incidentally in an impeccable British accent. Chefs Jenny Laatsch and Ian Hudak in “Dispatch,” set in a failing amusement park, chat about their lack of customers. The two roller coaster operators send a group of riders off for the fifth time, admonishing them to not lose their lunch.

Burr applauds, obviously pleased that few prompts were needed and her cast has given an energetic performance. They are radiant in the light of approval.

The theatre company can’t wait for Dec. 16 and 17 when the curtain will open at 1 p.m. on “Dispatch” and “Plant It” on the mainstage in WMC Alumni Hall on McDaniel’s campus. “Dispatch” is about workers at a failing amusement park who devise a plan to start a theatre company, and “Plant It” is about escaping from a faraway distant galaxy and finding a new home on Earth. 

Tickets are $5 at the door, and the event is open to the public.

Read More about Barrier Free Theatre

McDaniel alumna Britt Burr '11 (third from left) directs Barrier Free Theatre company members (left to right) Chris Schaeffer, Alex White, (Burr), Gary Boyle, John Nuzzo and Shelley Turner as they prepare for "Dispatch" and "Plant It" on stage in WMC Alumni Hall, Dec. 16 and 17 at 1 p.m.

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