The Special Needs class of Bur Oak Secondary School in Markham made history on March 3, 2015, when they competed at the Ontario Sears Drama Festival. This unique show titled “Shoes” featured youth who are living with challenges such as autism, developmental delays, and Downs Syndrome. In visually innovative ways, the show explores the hopes and dreams of these young people.
Directed by Cameron Ferguson, this creative effort is the product of a partnership between the drama program at Bur Oak Secondary School, Motus O Dance Theatre and filmographer Jeffrey Young. This presentation marks the first time in the 69-year history of the Sears Drama Festival that a special needs class has participated in the program.
Cameron Ferguson notes: "I have taught drama to the community class for the past two years. I see theatre as a place for my students to have their voice heard and to have their issues and dreams represented in their own way. These kids enjoy the class so much and are incredibly generous and willing to commit to the work. It occurred to me that they should be given the opportunity to create and perform a show. It also occurred to me that this show should be entered in the Sears Fest. The Sears Fest celebrates student theatre through a province wide festival. What better way to allow these kids an opportunity to not only showcase their abilities but to feel what it means to come together with other schools and celebrate community and the arts.
"It was important to me that this piece be about the students and their way of doing things and seeing the world. Often we see society’s perception of who we are, I wanted my students to present their own perspective. The students in this production are teenagers who each bring an individual set of talents and skills to the show. They also each have their own unique challenges. Some of the students are autistic, developmentally delayed, and have Down Syndrome. Through a generous Trillium grant and a partnership with the Autism Society, I was able to collaborate with talented artists Motus O Dance Theatre, Jeffrey Young, and Ben Cousins. This show explores the students dreams as well as what makes them happy. Some of these kids have big dreams, dreams of going to college, or becoming a famous chef. Some of the kids have simple dreams of driving a car or getting a job washing windows. The message of this
show is not how attainable these dreams are but rather the importance of dreaming and the importance of living in the moment. These kids teach me about living in the moment free of censorship or judgement. Teaching and directing this group of kids is absolutely freeing in the sense that I am able to play and join in on the impulsiveness and freedom without fear of failure or judgement. “Shoes” will give you a fifteen minute glimpse into the dreams and moments of joy of these remarkable kids. I am lucky to be in a position where I can teach a section of drama to the community class. I work in a school and under an administration where there is a strong mandate of inclusion, the importance of the arts, and celebration of diversity. Theatre arts lends itself to the strengths of these kids and I believe that all schools should run community drama classes. This play is a testament to that belief. Our “Shoes” production has been
shortlisted to be performed at the Southern Ontario Youth Festival in Windsor Ontario in May where this magic can once again be seen on stage.