Get in the Act with A.B.L.E. Ensemble
A.B.L.E. – Artists Breaking Limits & Expectations is a Chicago-based program offering performing arts opportunities for individuals with Down syndrome and other developmental special needs. Supported by a team of professional teaching artists and volunteer facilitators, participating actors work together to create artistic projects while building lifelong skills that help both onstage and in their day-to-day lives. Learn more about A.B.L.E.’s programs and productions here.
ApostropheMagazine.com featured A.B.L.E. in 2014 as the acting group completed its first independent film, The Curse of the Tempest Jewel. Since then, the ensemble has produced three stage plays, including an adaptation of Twelfth Night at Chicago Shakespeare Theater as part of the international festival, Shakespeare 400 Chicago.
This summer, A.B.L.E. is creating their second feature film – The Spy Who Knew Me – a spin on the classic spy-adventure genre epitomized by James Bond. Written and directed by ABLE co-founder and teaching artist Lawrence Kern, The Spy Who Knew Me script is based on monologues the actors wrote themselves.
Filming is expected to take place during a two-week camp in August at various locations around Chicago, including The Field Museum, The Shedd Aquarium and Cinespace Studios. The finished film will be shared at schools and community centers, and on the film festival circuit to raise awareness and show what individuals with Down syndrome can do when they are given equal access to creative opportunities.
A.B.L.E. was founded with the belief that everyone is ABLE to create, ABLE to connect, and ABLE to contribute. You can act too! Here’s a sample of some of the acting activities in a typical drama class:
30-minute acting class
Every A.B.L.E. class begins with a dance party to get the group’s energy pumping. Some ensemble favorites are “Single Ladies” by Beyonce,” and “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars/Marc Ronson. But anything that gets you moving is great!
Next, get your voice ready to perform:
- Place a hand on your belly. Take a long, slow inhale through your nose and send your breath to your belly. Then use your abdominal muscles to blow a quick, powerful exhale out, like you’re blowing out your birthday candles. This works a muscle called the diaphragm. The diaphragm is like a trampoline. If you drop your breath onto it, it will bounce your voice back up without you having to tense the muscles in your neck and shoulders. Practice breathing like this five times in a row.
- Use your belly breath to make some sounds. Try the eight-shake countdown: count out-loud to eight and shake your right hand, then your left hand, right foot and left foot. Then repeat counting to seven each time. Then six, five, four…all the way down to one count for each body part!
Ensemble Game: Elephant
This game builds several skills including eye contact, focus and teamwork. To play, everyone stands in a circle with one person in the middle. The person in the middle points to someone standing in the circle who then uses his/her arms to become the elephant Trunk. The people standing to the right and left of The Trunk use their arms to make The Ears. Once the elephant is complete The Pointer switches places with The Trunk and a new elephant gets made!
Improvisation Game: Presents
This game encourages actors to say “yes” and respect their scene partners while contributing their own ideas to a scene. Two people go up at a time. One is the giver, and the other is the receiver. The giver mimes giving the best gift ever, and the receiver excitedly accepts and says what they’re going to do with the gift!
A.B.L.E. classes end with this blessing to center energy and also allow actors to practice dropping in. To take the pressure off memorizing lines, for performances, every A.B.L.E. actor is paired with a teaching artist who “drops in” lines a few words at a time. The actors repeat their lines, adding their own inflection and personality. For this blessing, one person calls out the lines demonstrating the physical gestures, and the ensemble repeats:
I take from the Heavens (reach arms to the sky)
All that I need (move arms around as if gathering stuff from the sky)
And I bring it into Me (bring both hands to your heart)
And I take from the Earth (crouch down to touch the ground)
All that I Need (move arms around as if scooping stuff off the ground)
And I bring it into me (stand up and put both hands to your heart)
And when I have it inside me (keep hands on heart)
I give it away (open arms out)