Unified Theater puts the spotlight on ability

Jenna Rabah, Staff Writer

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On January 31, February 1 and
2, Unified Theater of Middletown
successfully hosted their
seventh annual production, titled
“A Unified Celebration.” The
production had many scenes,
each pertaining to a certain holiday.
16 years ago, Micaela Connery
started Unified Theater as a student
at Conard High School in
West Hartford. She was inspired
by her cousin Kelsey, who was
diagnosed with multiple disabilities.
She started Unified Theater
to create an environment where
people of all abilities can come
together to be creative while having
“Just because people with
disabilities experience the world
differently, they don’t experience
it any less,” said Connery
while speaking at the 2012 Chicago
Ideas Week Conference.
Through Unified Theater, Connery
intends to spread the concept
of inclusion in schools and
break the present barrier between
students with and without
According to their website,
Unified Theater aims to create
more inclusive communities
through student leadership and
the performing arts. It allows
for students of all abilities to immerse
themselves in a welcoming
and supportive environment.
Middletown’s Unified Theater
program includes about 50 students
of varying abilities, ranging
from elementary school students
to students out of high school.
Since last October, they have
been meeting every Wednesday
evening and some Saturdays
to brainstorm and practice the
Side by side, Unified Theater
members supported each other
through performances about different
celebrations covering a full
year, beginning and ending with
New Years Eve — ranging from
Valentine’s Day to the Fourth of
July to Halloween. The acts included
comical skits, dances, and
musical performances that highlighted
holiday traditions.
The scenes focused on friends
helping one another and overcoming
obstacles together in
various scenarios. These situations
often carried deeper messages
under their light hearted
surfaces. For example, in the
Christmas scene, when the power
went out and the presents went
missing, the members realized
that spending time with loved
ones was more important than
material possessions. Similarly,
some scenes had environmental
messages, for example those that
centered around Earth Day and
Arbor Day. And other scenes
were just centered around humor
and having fun, including
those for April Fool’s Day and
Fourth of July.
The production included a
sign language performance of
Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me”
which was choreographed by
Keith Vinci, who teaches American
Sign Language at Wesleyan.
The show also featured dances
to Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the
U.S.A,” Katy Perry’s “Firework,”
and the Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta
Feeling,” to name a few.
Students with disabilities were
showcased throughout — dancing,
singing and saying their lines
with energy and joy. If anyone
forgot a line or missed a cue,
their castmates were sure to get
the scene back on track, which
allowed the show to go on seamlessly.
This year’s show was their longest
yet, running for about an
unique show, were not putting
on something written by someone
else, it’s very personal.”
Unified Theater differs from
other productions in the fact
that the entire production is
executed by the students themselves,
including coming up with
the theme, writing the script
and practicing the choreography.
Since the program includes
people of all abilities, it focuses
on what a person can do, rather
than what they can not.
The students worked collaboratively
in five small groups to
plan, write, and choreograph the
scenes for the holidays that they
each chose at the beginning of
the process.
Karen Nocera, Middletown
Recreation Supervisor and inclusion
specialist who brought
this program to Middletown,
said “Unified Theater is a place
hour and a half.
It was also the last year for
many of the students, now seniors,
who were involved in the
program since it was brought to
Middletown. Those students,
who have been leaders in the
program for seven years, were
honored on closing night when
they were given roses, short
speeches, and a slideshow to
thank them for their hard work
to make the program what it is
Maurice Strong, a senior and
Unified Theater member said, “I
feel really good when I’m performing
because I’m with all of
my friends.”
Whitney Andrew, a senior,
who has been a part of this
program since it was brought to
Middletown in 2012, said, “[The
production] is all-inclusive, its
written by us and it’s always a
where there’s no pressure, I
want everyone to feel comfortable,
and I don’t want anyone to
feel as though they have to be
the best.”
She focuses her attention on
making sure everyone is doing
their part and that their talents
are being highlighted in the
Members of the program encourage
students to join them.
Andrew said, ”Definitely do it.
It’s definitely heartwarming to
see all the kids interacting together.”

Similarly, Nocera said, “It’s
a wonderful program, and it’s
a program for everybody… it
brings a sense of community, a
sense of inclusion, and a sense
of belonging.”
Unified Theater welcomes everyone
as they continue

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