Last Saturday, March 13, the staff and children of Kaiser’s Room presented a one-of-a-kind theatrical performance entitled Treasure in NYC at the intimate Cell Theatre. The multi-sensory, interactive show is meant to be an experience specifically designed for children on the autism spectrum and/or with other developmental difficulties.
Eight performers act as “Adventure Guides,” each paired with one or two children to collectively embark on an imaginary treasure hunt across New York City. Guiding the journey is a map, countless other props and costumes, along with moments of song, movement, colorful light, and projections. Following a visit to the top of the Empire State Building, projected video pans out to aerial view of the City – a particularly thrilling moment for these intelligent children who begin calling out landmark after landmark.
Part theater, part game, and entirely grounded in freedom of expression, Treasure in NYC gives children the safe and fun environment needed to explore and engage with each other, the cast, and the audience. For those of us experiencing the wonder of Kaiser’s Room for the first time, the show also successfully highlights the profound work being done by the organization.
“I had a need for fulfillment while pursuing my performing arts career; fulfillment both creatively and in giving back to this thirsty and underserved community,” shares Founding Director Stephane Duret.
He goes on to describe how his acting career ever-changed during a performance for autistic children called Red Kite: Rouud Up! “The boy I was paired with crawled under a bench, so I joined him, and did an entire show singing my songs and saying my lines from underneath that park bench. Towards the end, he was moved to leave the security of his bench, but told me to lay on top of it so that he could hug me, look me in my eyes, and say ‘friend.'” It was moments like these that solidified the power and effectiveness of the performing arts as a means for connection for and with children on the autism spectrum.
Duret then joined Kaiser’s Son Rise program. There he quickly realized that the training he was receiving was much like that he had received as an actor. “There’s an importance of living in the moment, not judging or making assumptions. I was forced to challenge some of my beliefs and preconceived notions. The biggest lesson was, ‘In a safe controlled space like the playroom, anything and everything we do is right–so long as the intention is help, and the root is love.'”
And so became Kaiser’s Room in January 2015, dedicated to engaging, inspiring, and developing children on the autistic spectrum through the performing arts. For Duret and his talented team, Kaiser’s Room represents a world of “yes” and is meant to be “the safest place in the entire universe” for these children.
“I would have to say the most rewarding part is the look on people’s faces!” Duret comments. “The look on the kids faces when the music starts or when it clicks that nothing is being asked of them and that they can simply be. The look on the actors/teachers faces when a connection is shared, or when a child accomplishes the unexpected. And the look on the parents faces when they see their child experience something they’d never experienced before.”
And Kaiser’s Room is just beginning, with much in store for the future. Summer and after-school programs, sensitivity/compassion workshops, national tours, and training programs–all are in the works. But the most immediate need for the organization is to secure the funding and space to offer more classes and present Treasure in NYC several times on weekly basis to reach as many families as possible.
To learn more about Kaiser’s Room, visit its website and Facebook page. If you know anyone with kids on the autism spectrum or with other developmental difficulties, Kaiser’s Room would love to meet them! Duret and his team can be contacted here.
Jenny Thompson is an Associate at Dunch Arts, LLC.