My most memorable and satisfying time as a Special Ed teacher was when I started a Black Light theater group with some of the higher functioning students. Our program was fashioned after the Famous People Players. In case you are unfamiliar with this theater form, the actors, who are all mentally challenged young adults, are dressed completely in black. They manipulate puppets or props that have been painted with neon colors. Then in a darkened auditorium, flourescent black lights are turned on. All that is seen are the props . Pieces of music were selected, props designed to bring the music to life. The actors or students, in our case, manipulated the props as choreographed. Our version was certainly less sophisticated, but equally exciting and fun-filled.
This program became very popular on several fronts. We were invited to perform for special occasions during the school year. We were also invited to perform at a number of schools throughout the school district. So many students were eager to be a part of the Black Light program. It was wonderful to see those who participated feel a sense of importance and develop more self confidence.
Students with all manner of physical or behavioral issues were always asking to be in Black Light. The challenge for me was how to incorporate the more difficult students and accommodate their particular issues. We had 3 rules - listen, follow directions and do not disturb or agitate others. If they broke any of the rules, they would be asked to leave. I have to say no one was ever asked to leave. In fact, our rehearsals were often the only times in the day difficult students completely controlled themselves.
This brings me to tell you about one teen in particular. Brigitte had an uncommon syndrome. Some of the characteristics were short stature, gravelly voice, compromised immune system. Although mobile, her structure and stamina limited her ability to stay standing upright. Brigitte talked incessantly making good use of malapropisms. I recall her rushing inside from lunch break excitedly telling me that “some bozo just had a seizer.” Another day she hurriedly walked through the school lobby waving a pad in her hand, announcing that she just got her pyramid.
Brigitte was frequently asking to be in Black Light. I finally figured out a way for her to participate while sitting in a chair. Somehow she managed to curb her non-stop chatter during rehearsals and performances. My all time favorite and touching Brigitte-ism was told to me by her homeroom teacher. It seems one day Brigitte was talking relentlessly. Her prattle finally got to her teacher who had become so exasperated she blurted out, “Brigitte, if you don’t stop talking, I’m going to kill you.” Brigitte, unphased, replied, “Ok, but could you wait until after Lillian’s Black Light rehearsal?”
I’m happy to say there was never any homicide committed.
Comments are always welcomed.