Advanced theater students from Tamalpais High School’s Conservatory Theater Ensemble teamed with special education students from the Marin County Office of Education as a part of a Youth in Arts program called “Arts Unite Us.”

As part of the program, the students produced an original short play for the school’s Winter One Act Festival. The collaboration was designed to bring together special-needs and mainstream students through a shared arts experience.

“We want to challenge assumptions about what individuals of differing abilities can accomplish,” said Youth in Arts Executive Director Miko Lee. “Our goal is to create a unique and meaningful arts learning opportunity for all the kids.”

Youth in Arts mentor artist Melissa Briggs, MCOE teacher Michael Lovejoy and CTE teacher Ben Cleaveland will lead the first of its kind collaboration between students of differing abilities at the district. They hope this program will help build connections between youths who don’t interact on a daily basis.

“The idea is to give a voice to all students and build a strong, more compassionate, community.” said Lovejoy.

Last year Briggs created a theater project with Lovejoy’s special education class that prepared them for the project. Since October students held brainstorming sessions together that led to formal play writing. “Students with different abilities really bonded quickly,” Briggs said. “They explored character development, conflict, metaphor and all the components of creating a play.”

As the students practiced their lines they were learning valuable communication skills for personal interaction, said Lovejoy. “Sophie Mills found ingenious ways to get the students comfortable with speech,” he said.

Many students learn best through visual means. Speech language pathologist Sophie Miles used an iPad with recorded lines and rehearsal photos to help students practice for the play.

Rehearsals began last fall, as soon as the script was finished. Theater students directed the play about a group of strangers who work together to save a woman on the Golden Gate Bridge following a devastating earthquake. Students from the special education program performed alongside theater students in the show.

The first showing of the play was well received. The kids received a standing ovation. “The pride in their faces was explosive,” said Lovejoy.

“Her Face to the Sky” kicked off Tamalpais High’s Winter One Act Festival on Jan. 12 and will be presented again Jan 19. “The festival provides a fantastic showcase for the work of this dedicated group of theater artists,” Briggs said. “Wait until you see what they have created.”

Youth in Arts is an educational nonprofit located in the North Bay. It offers students visual and performing arts experience.

Contact Soren Hemmila at

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