Since the summer of 2019, NOMA’s Learning and Engagement Department has partnered with Camp Able, a ministry of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in New Orleans that is dedicated to the development, execution, and growth of dignity-driven programs for neurodiverse individuals. From customized tours of the Besthoff Sculpture Garden to workshops inside the museum, along with online activities that have kept the group connected during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the partnership continues to evolve and strengthen. In December 2020 Camp Able participants staged a theatrical production in the amphitheater of the Besthoff Sculpture Garden, directed by 14-year-old volunteer counselor Kaleigh Bourque who shared her thoughts about the experience.
Camp Able NOLA is a place where special-needs youth and young adults can express their creativity with a great team to support their big ideas. This year, we demonstrated our abilities in the form of a Christmas play! Working with Camp Able has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had so far. I’m 14 years old, and I have been volunteering with Camp Able for two years now, beginning with being a summer camp counselor in 2019. The inclusive environment created at camp was one I will never forget. After learning about the year-round youth group activities, I knew I wanted to be more involved in this space where every individual is celebrated no matter their differences.
My first theater experience began at a NOMA puppetry summer camp in 2013, and my passion for theater was born. Since then, I have been in many musicals and plays around New Orleans, which is how the idea of creating a play for Camp Able came about. The youth group came to watch one of my performances. Once they saw what live theater was all about, we decided to take things one step further. Many of the youth group members had never been given the opportunity to participate in theater, and I am so privileged that I got to champion their debut.
I wrote a modified version of A Christmas Carol to spread joy for the holiday season. We started by letting the youth group members explore the script on their own. As director, I then stepped in and taught the group how to properly read and highlight a script. From there, we began practicing. We practiced every Sunday for six weeks until it was time for the big day. We performed our play on December 13, 2020, at NOMA’s Sculpture Garden Amphitheater—the first-ever theatrical performance to be performed in that space! I’m so proud of all the amazingly talented, dedicated youth group members that put on such a wonderful play. Being able to learn the social, emotional, and communication skills that go along with participation in such an experience was so rewarding to observe. Having our first play under wraps already has my wheels turning with future ideas for more opportunities.
I’m so grateful that Camp Able’s team was able to make this lovely rendition of A Christmas Carol possible, with special thanks to the group’s director, Taylor Cheek. I’m even more grateful that NOMA provided us with a beautiful outdoor venue to hold our production.
NOMA offers a variety of tours and programs, including virtual tours and workshops, that can be catered to the interest of groups of all ages and backgrounds. Call the Learning and Engagement Department at (504) 658-4100 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.