Heidi Silberman is an actor, writer and director who teaches inclusive NDIS approved Drama Classes for people of all abilities at The Hub in Canberra for Rebus Theatre in collaboration with L’Arche Genesaret.

Lines are learnt, costumes are on, audience members chat as they take their seats. The actors wait in the wings for the performance to begin. Eyes glistening with excitement, some take deep breaths to help overcome nerves, others sit patiently – so ready. Music fills the room and the audience chatter dissipates. The actors take to the stage.

Ten weeks ago they had come together for the first time as students in an Inclusive Drama Class I teach for Rebus Theatre. They were shy and nervous and excited and chatty and silent, their responses as individual as humans are. These students have a variety of physical and intellectual disabilities but here they are simply students in an acting class. For two hours each week my assistant teacher Ali and I work with them to build their confidence and teach them new skills. Through ‘get to know you’ activities, drama games and physical and vocal warm ups they have become more comfortable with each other and with their own bodies. We have also worked on a song to present on performance day, learning the words, the tune, some harmony and percussion, building to a performance ready piece. All this has been tremendous fun, but the highlight of every term’s work is the play.

We started the term with nothing. No script, no characters, no ideas. In week one the class chose a genre (this time it was actually a mash of two genres) and then picked what type of character they would like to play. Over the following weeks we improvised scenes those characters might find themselves in, with me constantly scribbling the fantastic lines they came up with for their own characters. By week three I found myself with too many plot lines to weave together coherently and characters no one would ever expect to see on stage – a homeless prime minister, a scientist werewolf. This is what happens when the class creates the work themselves. And every term I wonder ‘is this going to work’? I write a draft of the first few scenes and they run through it the next week. They correct it, make suggestions and come up with better lines. I continue scribbling. Each week the story builds, Ali builds in music and sound effects, the students bring props and costume items, we explore their characters in more depth.

And something else happens too, the student who didn’t speak a word for the first six weeks now ad libs a line here and there. The young man whose anxiety can be debilitating some weeks takes on his role with vigour and nerves seem to disappear. The woman who loves acting and watches every musical that comes to town takes ownership of the stage. Parents and carers laugh and cheer throughout the performance and tell us afterwards how wonderful these classes are and how much they have done for the class members.

When the performance is finished the audience applauds and the cast take their bow. Their hard work has paid off, the show was a success and nothing will erase the smiles from their faces.

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