Twenty-six years ago, Debra Lombard gave a hand to a friend who needed help teaching a theater class to children with special needs. The experience changed her life forever and marked the beginning of the Exceptional Theater Company (ETC).
ETC motivates children, teens, adults and seniors with disabilities by using the power of the theater. It started with only 12 students and now it is a registered nonprofit that serves more than 300 students throughout Broward, Palm Beach and Miami Dade Counties.
"When you give them this leading role on stage, it really prepares them to have a leading role in life,” says Daniela Roeder, operations manager for ETC.
Lombard and her team use the power of theater and their gift to help their members build self-confidence, verbal skills and creative expression.
“When you turn those lights on there is something that comes out. They change. They come alive when they hit the stage,” said Lombard.
ETC is fully accessible to the community. “The majority of our funding come from sponsors and that money is used for scholarships, equipment and costumes," says Roeder.
Courses include dancing, music, acting and improvisation.
“In each class we’ll talk about stage right, stage left, down stage and up stage. This gives them an idea of their place on the stage and an understanding of their place in the world and who they are," says Beth Allen, president of ETC.
"We give them a voice on this stage because they may not have a voice in the world. By practicing improvisation it helps them with real conversations with people outside of the classroom,” says Allen.
Student Isaiah Gonzalez said, “I love it because as a drama actor, I can show off my moves, like hip hop dancing. I also like to help others learn their lines.”
Alan Paoli is the father of Alan (A.J.) Paoli and he shared the excitement echoed by all the families in the Special Stars Program, taught since 2015 at the Broward Center for Performing Arts.
“I’ve seen a lot of progress with his socialization skills, like coming out of his shell. He even found a girlfriend here," says Paoli. "He always wanted to act and sing and this gave him a venue for that.”
To learn more about the company visit www.exceptionaltheatercompany.org