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History of Motown performance at P 373, Brooklyn

‘Creative expression instills confidence’

Students portraying the Temptations Jonathan Fickes

Students portraying the Temptations perform.

Douglass gives final instructions to cast and crew before the performance Jonathan Fickes

Douglass gives final instructions to cast and crew before the performance.

“When our students perform onstage, no one would know they are students with special needs,” dance teacher Donna Douglass said of her experience working with high school students at P 373, a District 75 school at the Brooklyn Transition Center. Students brought the house down on May 15 with an original performance chronicling the beginning of the Temptations singing group and the history of Motown music from Diana Ross to Michael Jackson. “The Temptations came from the type of neighborhood our kids come from: working-class families facing everyday obstacles,” said drama teacher Kate Fenton. She worked with her students who are studying for high school equivalency diplomas to write the script for the show. “Our students felt a lot of connection with the characters,” she said. In fact, they felt so much of a connection that the students playing the Temptations became deeply enmeshed in their characters’ dynamics offstage as well as on. “They were arguing in character backstage. It was Method Acting,” Fenton noted with a laugh. Fenton and Douglass, along with music teacher Thomas Orza, have been preparing their students for the performance since October. “Because our students have special needs, I use visual prompts like color coding for chord changes on instruments so they can play independently,” said Orza, whose students play everything from acoustic guitar to iPad keyboards. “Creative expression instills a lot of confidence in them,” said Orza. “As the conductor, I have the best seat in the house, and I was blown away.” Fenton, who teaches a unit on directing to help students learn how to direct each other onstage, said the performances open up a new world for students with special needs. “For students with emotional disabilities or autism with social anxieties, it’s amazing for them to get onstage,” she said. “They exceeded my expectations.” 

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