SPECTRUM OF HOPE is the story of 10 musical theater students, their families, and their teachers as they journey from P94M, their special needs school in New York City’s Lower East Side, to the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta, Georgia. A celebration of the life-altering power of arts education and musical theater, the film documents what can be accomplished when students are allowed to flourish on their own terms. SPECTRUM OF HOPE illuminates how musical theater, used as a tool that arts education uniquely provides for improving communication and teamwork, inspires and teaches children on the autism spectrum.
Generally, students on the autism spectrum are socially impaired and have difficulty communicating. Yet something extraordinary has happened to the P94M children in the five years since they have begun working on musical theater productions. They have created an ensemble – learning to work cooperatively, follow instructions, and understand character, motivation and emotion. Children who couldn’t communicate are establishing eye contact, speaking directly to one another, and reaching out to help a classmate who forgets a line or a movement onstage.
SPECTRUM OF HOPE was produced as a partnership between Freddie and Myrna Gershon, ArtsConnection, a 36 year old non-profit organization that provides arts education programs in the NYC public schools, P94M (The Spectrum School) which serves elementary and middle school students on the autism spectrum and Que Pasa Productions, a Miami-based production company. P94M is the only District 75 school dedicated to the performing arts, and was once a school in crisis.
Freddie and Myrna Gershon saw the students perform at the Shubert Foundation/MTI Broadway Junior Program, (a ground-breaking musical theater mentorship program which builds self-sustaining theater programs in public schools that have limited arts programming) and asked how they could become involved with the program. The Gershons now support the work of ArtsConnection and P94M and underwrote the trip to Atlanta and the film’s production so it could be shared with others. The Executive Producers of SPECTRUM OF HOPE are Myrna & Freddie Gershon. It was produced by Danny Mendoza and Eric Gaunaurd and directed by Danny Mendoza.
“Myrna and I were tearfully overwhelmed when we first saw the P94M children perform. We knew immediately we wanted to provide the resources to help this program grow and prosper, and offer others the guidance to create their own programs,” said Freddie Gershon.
The students at P94M are not alone: one in 88 children in the United States falls within the autism spectrum. Most of the students from P94M had never left their neighborhood or been on airplane. At home, their world is defined by constant structure. When they arrived in Atlanta, they found themselves among a sea of 4,000 high-spirited middle school students from all over the country, all facing new challenges both as budding artists and young teens – performing and socializing together. At the Junior Theatre Festival, they went on a new adventure – experiencing the same rites of passage as their peers. Walking into a dark, cavernous room full of flashing lights and loud crowds, these students stepped boldly into the unknown – and although none of them knew what would come next, they met this new world with open hearts.
Under the leadership of Principal Ronnie Shuster and the support of the Gershons, The Spectrum School P94M partnered with ArtsConnection who implemented a sequential musical theater program which:
o Contributes to the student’s acquisition of social skills
o Contributes to the student’s emotional literacy (the ability to identify and label emotions)
o Provides the school with a common goal toward which every student could participate
o Provides a common focus for curriculum throughout the school
o Builds students verbal communication skills
o Highlights the hidden talents among the faculty and staff
o Brings families into the building and gives them a deeper understanding of what their children can accomplish
The new SPECTRUM OF HOPE film is available free of charge to all schools, teachers and families throughout the United States via MTI Shows LINK HERE.