Musical experience Up & Away provides ‘a magical experience’

The Rose Theater production created for autistic children
Published: Mar. 6, 2022 at 5:27 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 44 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

While acceptance and understanding in the community as a whole remains challenging, a local theater is preparing an uplifting opportunity for neurodiverse youngsters and their families to kick off a month of activities highlighting their journey, the interactive musical experience, “Up & Away.”

“In a space in a world where disability...inclusion is the new positive frontier, we are just beginning to include the ‘A’ in the work,” said Fran Sillau, accessibility coordinator and teaching artist at Omaha’s The Rose Theater. “There’s equity, diversity (and) inclusion but we must not forget the access. Access is for everyone.”

Sillau has been performing and teaching at The Rose for nearly 21 years, and to him, “Up & Away” is something special. The musical gives the access he mentions to young neurodiverse audiences and their families.

Produced for the first time outside of New York. It was commissioned by Lincoln Center Education and created by Trusty Sidekick Theater Company. Kate Weitz’s son is on the autism spectrum. She took him to see the original production in 2018 and recognizes this as a perfect fit to open the Autism Action Partnership’s Common Senses Festival.

”It’s just really well tailored for someone like my son,” said Weitz, who sits on the Autism Action Partnership board of trustees. “Then for him to be completely engaged for over an hour in a theater production. That’s what makes it important, beyond the fact that it’s just lovely to have something to go to for my child and to not feel judged, to be in a very safe space but then just have a blast.”

While rehearsing as a company at The Rose Theater where the production runs March 12 through April 4, cast members talked about the opportunity to be a part of the immersive production.

“They create the show along with us,” said Kevin Ehrhart, who is part of the cast and serves as co-musical director. “Every show is going to be completely different because we’re devising it with them and we’re taking cues from them and so who knows what’s gonna happen. It’s a great improvisational experience.”

The musical is directed by Cindy Genrich.

”For me to witness the interaction between the performers and the young people, it gives you chills,” said artistic director Matt Gutschick. “And it makes you realize that we are so much more alike than we are unalike in this world.”

”We’re not asking you to come and be a certain way or act a certain way,” said Sillau, who is also a cast member. “We ask you to be who you are and we’ll meet you there, and we’ll take it from there and hopefully create a magical experience.”

Because of the nature of the show and the limited space in the intimate Hitchcock Auditorium, opportunities to take part or attend are limited.

The Rose Theater has information on its website.

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