Special-needs students design sets for stage

PLANO, Texas (AP) — Art is one of Rosie Alvarado’s favorite classes at My Possibilities, a continuing education program for post-high school adults with cognitive disabilities, in Plano.

“I painted it myself,” she told The Dallas Morning News proudly in her art room, standing beside her art teacher, Casey Parrott. “I mixed blue and gold and red. I painted it for Jonah’s show. It makes me happy.”

Jonah is Jonah Gutierrez, Alvarado’s theater teacher at My Possibilities. He played a leading role in “Midas,” a new play from PrismCo performed at Oak Cliff Cultural Center last month. Gutierrez, who is also a member of PrismCo and its longtime technical director, has been teaching the students theater skills, while Parrott has guided them in creating paintings and sculptures that complement the story of the mythical king whose touch turned objects and those he loved into gold.

Jeff Colangelo, a co-founder of PrismCo who directed the show, says he was thrilled with results.

“They are an incredible group,” he says.

“We chose to work with them because of the quality of their art. I really enjoy their artwork. It’s secondary that we get to work with adults with special needs.”

PrismCo is a wordless theater company, co-founded by Southern Methodist University graduates Colangelo and Katy Tye. “Midas,” written by Tye, tackled the mythological tale of the eponymous greedy king who wished for everything he touched to turn to gold. Alvarado and another My Possibilities student, Sara Oleksy, used photos of actresses playing Midas’ wife and daughter as models for paintings that show Midas’ family members after they’ve been turned to gold. Another student, Scott Walter, sculpted and spray-painted a giant golden nugget for the show.

The students attended the Oct. 14 performance, which was followed that night by an auction of the artwork. The proceeds went to the students, with the artwork delivered to the new owners at the end of the show’s run.

The relationship between My Possibilities and PrismCo began in fall of 2015. Artists from PrismCo, with the mission of presenting highly accessible work to people of all ages, ethnicities, language backgrounds and disabilities, presented a private showing of Persephone for the school, followed by a talk-back session. The students loved the show and the relationship between the theater and the school continued with PrismCo performing short shows, teaching the students stage-combat skills and coaching a student showcase production of “Wendy.” Colangelo was so impressed by the painting the students did for “Wendy,” he spoke with Parrott and Gutierrez about having them create art for “Midas.”

Gutierrez was eager to connect his work at My Possibilities with his theatrical home at PrismCo. Parrott, a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and Southern Methodist University, was happy about the idea, too. Students at My Possibilities who studied culinary, computer or office skills knew they could leverage those lessons into jobs. Finally, Parrott could show his art students that art could also lead to satisfying work outside school.