On the Wednesday April 13, Colgate University students and community children followed the yellow brick road to the second annual "Oz Project" at the Palace Theater in Hamilton.
The Oz Project, developed last year by Colgate professors Sheila Clonan and Regina Conti, uses drama games, music and other activities to create an inclusive social learning and growing environment for children with and without special needs.
This year, 29 local children from Cazenovia, Hamilton and Morrisville schools participated in the workshop that ran for a period of six weeks and culminated in a final performance at the Palace Theater in Hamilton. The main performance was "Munchkin Madness," a short play that picks up where "The Wizard of Oz" left off.
The whole gang returned, but Dorothy, Toto, the Tinman, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion needed some help with conflict resolution. The Munchkins of Oz stepped in to help, and over the course of the play, taught all of the characters some very important lessons about getting along. The performance culminated with a touching sign language interpretation of "Over the Rainbow" and a lively rendition of "You've got a friend in me" as an encore.
Appreciating the friend in everyone and celebrating differences were among the main focuses of the project, which was turned into a seminar this year, featuring 19 students taught by Clonan. In addition to working with the children each week, these ambitious and energetic students developed curriculum and activities, evaluated the program, as well as filmed the workshops and final performance to document the children's development. Their behind-the-scenes work helped the children not only to shine on stage in front of their friends and families, but also to grow in confidence, understanding, acceptance and communication.
Although approximately a third of the children in the program have been diagnosed with autism and other disorders, many were extremely outgoing. Each child was valued for what they contributed to the workshop, and each of them brought something special and individual to the performance.