Making Light Productions is expanding its performance space to accommodate all students – including those in wheelchairs.
When the Tallahassee performing arts school debuts its renovated space this Friday with "Golly Gee Whiz: The Musical," Making Light co-founder Juliet Yaques says the cast will be free to move unhindered.
“We put these backstage doors in, and they are ADA compliant so anyone is able to open them,” Yaques says as she walks around the performance space in southeast Tallahassee. “We decided on a low stage instead of having a raised stage for the same reason that anyone with mobility issues is able to use the stage.”
That’s especially important at Making Light. Co-founder and Managing Director Mandi Broadfoot says many of the performers have special needs.
“It was really driven home to me a few years ago when I had a little girl in a wheelchair come to see a show that I was directing,” Broadfoot says. “She tapped me on the arm and said, ‘I would like to be up there. Could I be up there?’ I said, ‘absolutely, you could.’ Then, the theater I was in at the time, I was like, how will we get her up there? You know, we'll figure it out. So it's always been on my heart that we ought to be accessible in every way.”
12-year-old Walter Pasco will be among the performers unveiling the new stage. “I was a bit of a person who worries a lot, and my mom encouraged me to take the jump into theatre, which not only helped me to conquer my cowardice," he says with a smile, "but also led me down this wonderful theatrical road.” That theatrical road includes private voice lessons and theatre classes, as well as summer camp.
Broadfoot says about 40 percent of the students at Making Light are diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum – having a neurological or developmental disorder.
“We wanted to start a place that was inclusive. Kids with special needs and typically developing children work together, play together, sing together, act together,” Broadfoot says. “They make theater and art together because it's good for both groups of kids. That's really on our hearts because we both have children on the autism spectrum, and they both happen to love doing music and theater.”
Yaques and Broadfoot were working at a church performing arts program when the idea for Making Light was hatched. Yaques was inspired by an article about a woman who started a movie theatre in Connecticut employing only those with disabilities. Broadfoot suggested they open a theatre, too – one for performing arts.
21 students were enrolled when they started holding classes in Broadfoot’s converted garage. They quickly moved to a 2700 square foot rental property on North Monroe Street – and kept growing. They purchased their current 8300 square foot space on Blair Stone Road last October. It includes classrooms, studios, and a soon to be open thrift store that will employ and benefit teens and adults with disabilities.
9-year-old Hanah Meth was inspired to join Making Light as an audience member. “We saw one of their showcases that they were doing called ‘The Greatest Show,’ which is a spin I guess on (the movie) ‘The Greatest Showman,’” she says. “I really liked what they were doing, and I decided I want to do this, too. So we found classes that I was interested in, and we signed up.”
More inspiration may be found in Broadway’s Ali Stroker. She became the first Broadway performer in a wheelchair when she joined the cast of “Spring Awakening” in 2015. Now, she’s starring in “Oklahoma” in a role that just won her a Tony Award. Broadfoot says Stroker is proof that a disability doesn’t need to stop anyone from pursuing their dreams.
“This is the one that really pushes my buttons – people that make assumptions about what kids are capable of doing,” Broadfoot says. “We can’t ever make assumptions about what anyone is capable of. If we don’t (make assumptions), if we raise the bar, they will meet it every single time as long as we’re there to be next to them and to support them.”