Brooklyn is chock full of talented artists, musicians, and actors, and Park Slope’s Dream Street Theatre Company is no exception. Now in their 16th year of celebrating our borough’s performers with special needs, Dream Street is preparing for Radio Dreaming — a holiday show debuting in front of audiences this weekend. Ahead of the show’s opening night, we spoke with DSTC’s Artistic Director Aubrie Therrien about the company’s origins, ensemble, and what’s to come.
How did Dream Street come to be, and are any of the original cast members still involved?
Dream Street Theatre Company was the dream child of Karuna Heisler, who worked with YAI as a Clinic Coordinator helping developmentally disabled adults with socialization skills. She hosted a Friday night social for people with special needs to learn basic social skills like “how to talk on the phone,” or “friendships in contrast to romantic involvement.”
She quickly saw that these individuals were creating an expressive community and began to grow more when music, movement, and performance were introduced into the program. Many of the members actually loved to preform and, out of these hidden talents and passions, Karuna formed Dream Street, first as a conduit to community and second as an application of skills and talent.
Many of the original cast members are still a very important part of Dream Street and have grown tremendously as performers and people. We have developed a community here, and just as our members are a very important part of this company, we are an important resource in their lives.
How has having the Berkeley Carroll School as a rehearsal venue affected the company’s work?
Having the Berkeley Carroll School to work with over these past 11 years has been a saving grace in many ways for the company. It has given us the opportunity to rehearse and grow as a company without having the added stressors of finding usable theatre spaces in the community. The student body has also reached out and volunteered with our company, which acts an enrichment for both the students’ and the cast members’ experience.
Tell us about the people who make up the company.
It’s really fun to watch and discover what our members bring in to work on or rehearse. For example, we have Yasha, who has some difficulties with his mobile skills; however, he can memorize anything you give him very quickly and recites opera — in Italian — from memory. On the other hand, we have members like Kendra, who are voluntary mutes and express themselves more through dance. Now that she has been in the program and become more social, she does speak.
Most of our members have been with us for a long time, but recently we have gotten a nice mix of new faces. Bakari, a friend of Yasha’s who heard about the group recently, joined us and loves to sing and dance to pop music. And he is amazing at it.
To see him perform is very special, because like Yasha, he has some mobility issues, but when he gets on stage he belts out these songs, perfectly memorized, at the top of his voice. He said to me the other day, “Am I gonna be a star?” And I said, “Absolutely. You are a star.”
We’ve heard several Dream Streeters are in committed relationships with each other. How about some of these company love stories?
Oh the love lives of the Dream Street cast members! That’s the wonderful thing about this company; they have truly created a community, and they have very sincere feelings and emotions regarding relationships and the world.
First we have Mary Kate and Gary, who have been engaged for the past 10 years. Then there is Jeffrey and Nicole, who have an on again/off again relationship — Jeffrey serenades her at almost every rehearsal, which is really wonderful to see. Lastly there’s Christine and Frank, who have been in a relationship for a few years and seem to be very happy. We also have some same sex identification with some of our members “coming out,” per se, and voicing their desire to one day have a boyfriend or a girlfriend.
Cyndi Lauper created a video encouraging Paul DiVincenzo as he is set to perform “True Colors” in Radio Dreaming. How did she find out about the performance? What was Paul’s reaction to the video she made?
Cyndi Lauper was contacted by the amazing Stephanie Schroeder, our PR aficionado, and volunteered to send a very fabulous “break a leg” message. Paul was on cloud nine when he received the video, as was the rest of the cast, and it seems to have affected his performance and confidence in a really great way.
We also had opera singer Patricia Racette send a video to Yasha, our cast member who just loves her and the opera. He was absolutely estatic. I’ve never seen him react to anything like that before. His mom said he just kept walking around the next day saying, “I just can’t believe it,” and showing everyone he met.
What can the audience of Radio Dreaming expect? How much of the show is scripted versus improvised?
The audience can expect to get a nice introduction to each cast member from Dream Street and their talents; many of the pieces in the show were written by them. It’s a revue of sorts, but highly entertaining and set to a specific theme and context. With this format and with everyone’s unique abilities, you should expect a lot of improv. This cast shines with an audience, so I feel like there will be a lot of unscripted surprises that even I didn’t expect.
What’s up next for DSTC?
Up next we are doing something very ambitious: Shakespeare. We are tackling our version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the spring, which should be very funny and exciting to see performed. Shakespeare is a difficult genre for mainstream actors, so I’m excited to teach our cast something that they will be so proud to learn how to do. It will also be a much bigger production with full sound, lights, and set. Hopefully it will be at a 250-seat theatre in the Park Slope/Gowanus area.
I would also love readers to know that we are an open resource to the community. We want to host more classes during the week on performance and even auditioning for all different age groups, and we want to host a children’s summer camp next year. We really want to help the special needs community and their families, but they need to know we exist!
Want to see Dream Street Theatre Company in action? You can catch Radio Dreaming at 7pm this Friday, December 12, and Saturday, December 13, at The Jalopy Theatre (315 Columbia Street between Woodhull and Rapelye Streets in Red Hook); tickets are $25 and are available for purchase here.