June 2020 – Independent theater company owner, Katie Cummings, created the Pink Umbrella Theater to provide acting opportunities to students with different needs. As COVID-19 forced the acting company into a virtual setting, Cummings has actually been able to expand the course offerings, and students were able to take coaching sessions/classes through Zoom. The company owner shared the following highlights and assessments from the now virtual acting company:
- Students who have autism and other sensory sensitivities love doing their classes from their own homes where they're more comfortable.
- Students who have physical disabilities love that they don't have to worry about transportation to and from classes.
- Previous teachers who have moved to other cities love that they can "come back" to teach their students.
According to Cummings, students are "a lot more open to trying new experiences when they're in their own homes…for a lot of the students; it's breaking down barriers." Several students shared how virtual courses have assisted them. For one student with autism, the virtual setting removed the sensory-overloaded world. Because of COVID-19, many of these parents have learned how to "make things better for [their differently-abled children]." Though Pink Umbrella Theater intends to return to in-person classes eventually, Cummings shared that she also intends to keep the virtual courses. For this summer, Pink Umbrella is offering the following courses (which are now open for registration) for students with disabilities:
- One-to-one vocal, acting, and musical theater coaching.
- Ensemble classes are divided by age group (8-13, 13-18 and 18 and older) and include acting; acting and mindfulness; acting and movement; found puppetry; musical theater; and improv.
- "Musical theater & me" is a downloadable video class for people who don't have time to sign up for a full week of classes.
- "Pink Pop up" is a bi-weekly session for caregivers, parents, and guardians to share their experiences.
- "Pink in a box!" is a Zoom class for children ages 4-8 and their caregivers, which includes a box of sensory immersive materials for families to use as they take the classes.
- Sibling musical theater is an acting class dedicated to the siblings of people who identify with a disability.
Below is the link for Pink Umbrella's company website [Source: Amy Schwabe via Milwaukee Journal Sentinel].