MILLBURN, NJ - Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno paid a visit to the Paper Mill Playhouse on Tuesday to recognize Autism Awareness Month and to take in a performance by the participants in the “Theatre for Everyone” program.
She said that she was proud of the Christie Administration’s ongoing support of community-based services for individuals with developmental disabilities. Theatre for Everyone is one of the Paper Mill’s specialized, arts-focused programs for individuals with developmental disabilities. Such programs have earned the theater numerous awards and national recognition for the unique learning experiences it provides.
“The Paper Mill Playhouse plays an instrumental role in providing essential arts-focused, educational services necessary to help those with autism and other developmental disabilities reach their potential and lead richer, fuller lives,” Guadagno said. “I applaud their work and the efforts of all of our statewide arts organizations for their ongoing commitment to addressing this most important and pressing cause, not only during Autism Awareness Month but throughout the entire year.”
The Paper Mill Playhouse has been an innovative force in creating programs addressing the needs of the autism community. Working together with leading nonprofit organizations like VSA New Jersey and academic institutions such as Rutgers University, Paper Mill Playhouse’s annual calendar has included events such as “Autism-Friendly Performances,” “Stone Soup and Other Stories” gatherings, and “Theater for Everyone” creative drama classes for students with autism and other developmental disabilities.
“In New Jersey, where 1 in 45 children are diagnosed with autism, the challenge is significant,” said Todd Schmidt, Managing Director of the Paper Mill Playhouse. “Families struggle to find non-judgmental and accommodating opportunities to enjoy live theater together. When we found no models for programming that accommodates such families, Paper Mill drew on its extensive expertise in arts education and access to develop new programs that would help address the wide spectrum of challenges these families face at a traditional live theater performance.”
The Theatre for Everyone program is taught by Leslie Fanelli with assistance from her daughter, Hannah Fanelli and Sean Dineen.
“The Theatre for Everyone class is a success because of the participation of all the parents and siblings and grandparents and nurses,” said Leslie Fanelli. “That’s what makes it work. That’s what makes it magical.” She also noted that everyone has difficulties. “In my class, we all have different abilities and different disabilities and we celebrate our disabilities and our abilities. We celebrate.”
The theater is planning an autism-friendly performance of “Aladdin Junior” on June 14. To learn more about the work of the Paper Mill Playhouse, in addition to its upcoming performance schedule, visit papermill.org.