Monday, May 5, 2008

BEST Network reaches out to Kansas City through theater

The Kansas City Star profiled May 4 the BEST Network, a performing troupe that encompasses singers and dancers from 8 to 31, all of whom have a disability, many with Down syndrome.

Created by Marlene Wagnon, whose daughter Audrey has Down syndrome, the program gives a theatrical outlet to performers with disabilities, like Audrey, who always wanted to act, sing and dance.

“Once they’re out of school … there’s really no place for these kids to go,” says Wagnon, mother of seven. But she believes performing arts can help these young people with developmental disabilities learn life skills and allow them to express their talents and desires.

“Everyone deserves opportunities to try anything they want to achieve,” Wagnon says. So she formed the BEST Network in 2002, offering the classes out of her Overland Park, Kan., home.

“That was the best day of my whole life,” says Audrey, 31. “I told my mom what I wanted to do, and she did it.”

The group’s goal is "to create communities of kindness and inclusion through the performing arts, integrating people with and without disabilities, to educate, entertain and break down social barriers," The Kansas City Star reports.

The program even has a form of "reverse inclusion," which is allows non-disabled teens to participate in the performance program.

“We also include typical people onstage,” says Wagnon, defining “typical” as people without disabilities. “We call it reverse inclusion.”

Six of these typical teens have joined the troupe and are referred to as BEST BUDDs (Believers Undaunted by Developmental Disabilities). They help the BEST performers rehearse and socialize with them.