NYC Special-Needs Students Who Created Original Musical Receive Courage in Theatre Award

By Adam Hetrick
June 21, 2012

The Spectrum School, a Manhattan school dedicated to special-needs students, has been awarded the Courage In Theatre Award by Music Theatre International.



The honor, according to 2012 Tony honoree and MTI CEO Freddie Gershon, recognizes organizations and individuals who "confronted challenges that threaten their ability to explore or express their artistic vision in positive ways."

The Courage In Theatre Award was first presented in 2007 to a Connecticut high school group that was banned by school officials for presenting a documentary-theatre piece that explored personal accounts of the Iraq War. The production later received an Off-Broadway presentation.

The students and faculty of The Spectrum School, or P94M, are being honored by Gershon and his wife Myrna, for creating their original musical that documents their experiences with autism. In recent years Spectrum School students participated in the Shubert Foundation/Music Theatre International Broadway Jr. program.

After their experiences with Broadway Jr., Spectrum School students were inspired to write and perform their own musical based on "stories about being bullied for being 'different' and their desire to use their musical theatre skills to demonstrate to everyone the unknown talents and abilities they contain," according to MTI.

An adult from the New York City program Arts Connection helped the students create the songs for the musical, called A Powerful Day. One student also wrote and performed his own solo song for the presentation. It was performed in late May for parents, faculty and friends.

Representatives from MTI also attended the performance and were moved to present the Spectrum students and faculty with the honor. "This award acknowledges the Spectrum School's courage, talent and dedication in creating and performing a brand new musical about a difficult subject matter," Gershon said in a statement.

The Spectrum school's name stands for "Special Populations Educated Creatively Through Rigor, Understanding and Motivation." 

The students, as well as their arts education liaison Tessa Derfner, video/animation teacher Jason Foreman, composer/librettist Scott Evan Davis and principal Ronnie Shuster were presented with the MTI Courage in Theatre Award during a special dinner hosted by the Gershons on June 20. All were treated to a performance of Peter and the Starcatcher, with tickets arranged by Peter Avery of the NYC Department of Education.