NWU alumna’s unified theatre program grabs national attention
A Nebraska Wesleyan University alumna is helping high school students break barriers and unleash their creative capabilities through unified theater performances.
“I think we’re making big waves in our community,” says Brooke Phillips (’06), theater director at Millard West High School in Millard, Neb. “I know these students have an artistic bone in their bodies and I want them to express it. It just takes a little bit of hope and belief that we can do something to get something to happen.”
She says she saw an opportunity to draw on the artistic expertise of students with disabilities. “We decided to take my advanced theater class and pair it at the same time of day with an English class for our Alternate Curriculum Program (ACP) students. They work on their speaking and listening skills, and that has blossomed into this unified performance that we do annually.”
The unified theater group has been putting on show-stopping performances for six years and this season’s series was another fan favorite: Disney’s Frozen: The Broadway Musical.
Phillips entered her school in a national contest where one high school in each state was granted rights for it. “I thought our unified students would really love to do Frozen.” I thought we could pull it off … we did it! It was crazy, super fun and very rewarding.”
The performance has grabbed national attention with an appearance on Good Morning America. Phillips says the students showcased their talents in an exceptional way despite Frozen being a complex performance to pull off. “I don’t deserve any of the credit, except that I knew we could do it. So many people rallied to do it because they believe in this.”
After the final curtain call, she says peer mentors were tasked with writing a reflection about the experience. Phillips says one response captured the meaning of why unified performances are so vital.
“One of my students doesn’t love school very much and gets into trouble some. In his reflection, he (said) he just loves working with special needs students. He said to come to school and have somebody just so excited to see you, joke around and give high fives gave him enough joy to come to school every day.”