ENCINITAS — In 2008 Kathryn Campion and William Simonson founded the Encinitas Community Theatre with the goal of using theater arts to teach life skills to low-income children and adults.
Campion and Simonson were veterans of the arts — she as a classical pianist and teacher, singer, songwriter and actor, he as a television and theater actor and director.
In addition, Campion had nonprofit experience working for the Joy of Sports Foundation, the Arthritis Foundation and Combined Health Agencies, United Way of San Diego/CHAD.
After the theater opened, the couple noticed an unusual demand for the program from parents of children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and particularly autism.
“We were doing improv,” Campion remembers. “A mother wanted her child to participate, but he didn’t seem to be able to — so they did it together. They really shined. For the first time I realized what parents of children with autism go through.”
News about the couple’s willingness to work with the autism community spread through word-of-mouth.
The theater evolved
into the Positive Action Community Theatre, an inclusion program that brings together all students including those on the autism spectrum.
The upcoming summer session will be held Saturdays July 10 through Aug. 28. The teen/adult workshop is scheduled from 12:30 to 2 p.m., the tween (ages 8 to 12) workshop from 2 to 3 p.m. and the teen workshop from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Tuition is $165 for teens and adults, and $140 for tweens.
To promote inclusion, a “two for one” price is being offered to individuals with disabilities who bring along a typical peer, sibling or friend.
The eight-week program culminates in a live performance.
The most unique aspect of the program is its inclusiveness, which promotes self-esteem, cooperation, creativity and fitness.
“Modeling is so critical in the first five to seven years for children on the (autism) spectrum,” Pamela Thierry said. “Having access to typical peers in a fun activity gave my daughter many opportunities to learn about social interaction, creativity (not right or wrong) and how to follow directions in a less structured environment.”
Because each class has a one-to-one ratio of typical peers to students with disabilities, additional volunteers are being sought.
“I’m always looking for people who enjoy participating in theater,” Campion said. “It’s a wonderful way to get started in volunteerism. We want to expand people’s idea of what is normal. Come
with the idea of making friends.”
High school students can earn community service for volunteerism. Eventually, the theater has plans to work with the Girl Scouts.
Currently PACT volunteers are being trained by Kids Together, a nonprofit that works with providers of inclusion programs.
For more information about becoming a volunteer, visit pacthouse.org or contact (760) 815-8512 or info@pact house.org.
PACT receives funding from the city of Encinitas and The Mizel Family Foundation; Area Board 13, State
Council on Developmental Disabilities; and California Arts Council and National Arts and Disability Center at UCLA. Scholarships are available based on need and availability.
PACT’s fall session is scheduled to begin Sept. 25.
Students will take their show on the road for a performance in November in
the Community Room of
the Encinitas Library. In December they will perform at assisted-living facilities.
PACT is located at Dance North County, 535 Encinitas Blvd., Suite 100 in Encinitas.