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RSS FeedFacilitator Spotlight: Laura Callahan-Hazard
Thursday, August 28th, 2014 02:40 PM

By Anita Dacanay

Founded in 1964 by Jean Vanier, L'Arche is an International Federation dedicated to the creation and growth of homes, programs, and support networks with people who have intellectual disabilities. L’Arche is an interesting point of connection between Still Point Facilitator Laura Callahan-Hazard and our Founder, Lisa Wagner-Carollo. Lisa was living in a L’Arche community in Kansas City, KS in 1986, when young Laura was growing up in a L’Arche community in Nebraska. The two communities would meet for fellowship and events, so this is how Lisa and Laura met - when Laura was only 4 years old!

Fast forward through the years: Laura attended Barat College of DuPaul in Lake Forrest, IL. She served as an intern for a young Still Point Theatre Collective, and then later as a volunteer.  After Laura graduated in 2004 with a degree in Directing, she became involved with various theatrical projects.  She also began working with adults with developmental disabilities. Through Search, Inc., a Chicago nonprofit that provides services for adults with developmental disabilities, her job intersected yet again with Still Point when she began escorting individuals from Search to Imagination Workshop programs. Eventually this led to Laura facilitating the Ravenswood Players workshop series at Ravenswood Presbyterian Church. This program is unique in that it is open to members of the public. Laura also ran a pilot program at Orchard Village in Skokie this past spring, for which Still Point is being awarded the Jeannie Johnson Hirsch Award for Outstanding Community Service.  As our Lead Facilitator for Imagination Workshop programming, she is also currently conducting a workshop series with core members from L’Arche Chicago. 

On September 14 L’arche Chicago will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of L’Arche international, and the 14th year of L’Arche Chicago with a special benefit event.  Laura’s group will be presenting an original performance as part of that benefit.  The theme of the performance is “what community means to me.” The scenes presented will explore the lessons that the actors have learned from community, and that they would like to teach to others.  The participants will also talk about the gifts that they bring to community. 

As I spoke with Laura in detail about how she approaches working with groups of adults with developmental disabilities, it became apparent that her training in directing and her life experience arm her with a unique set of skills that she brings to Still Point’s outreach work.  She facilitates a variety of creative, practical lessons about stage acting – like the “No Butts Lesson” on stage movement.  This playfully-named class session teaches the actors to remain turned toward the audience during a performance, and to learn how to follow directions to move around the playing area. 

In addition to teaching acting skills, many of the exercises also emphasize building social skills and self-esteem.  Having new acting students work together to “build a story” – with each person adding an element as they take turns storytelling – provides important information to Laura about each person’s personality and skill set.  The exercise is also a way to boost confidence by demonstrating to new participants that they truly can tell a story, as doing so may be completely uncharted territory for them.  Another exercise that builds self-esteem is to end each session with the giving of compliments to other group members. Laura coaches participants in how to be specific in their compliments. After they receive a compliment, it is their turn to give one. 

Laura has become very adept at providing a supportive structure so that each performer can have his or her moment to shine on stage. She describes the shows as being “highly structured improv.” The actors know their characters and the basics of what happens in the story, but are free to change the exact wording of their lines. Laura is often on stage with the actors, with her main role being to prompt the actors to talk in more detail.  

When I spoke to Laura, she was bubbling over with enthusiasm, information, and ideas regarding her teaching methodology. One significant gift she brings is her understanding, respect, and support for an often-marginalized segment of our society.  Still Point has always focused on self-expression and empowerment in our Imagination Workshop programming. Laura’s experience and unique perspective allow her to explore that aspect of our outreach work with both great knowledge and great conviction. L’Arche’s philosophy is one of total inclusivity. People with intellectual differences who live in L’Arche communities are referred to as “core members” rather than “clients” or the currently used “consumers.” Laura explores the significance of that language with her actors in their upcoming show. She encourages them to express their thoughts and feelings on a variety of subjects, and helps give them tools with which to do so.

Laura and her husband have a shared living arrangement with two women with developmental disabilities. These women are going to be in the L’Arche performance as well. In short, Laura Callahan-Hazard exhibits total consistency regarding the inclusion, celebration, and support of adults with intellectual disabilities. Laura brings her great heart and integrity, along with her exceptional facilitation skills and artistry, to every Imagination Workshop group that she leads.  For all of these reasons, Laura has quickly become an integral and highly valued member of Still Point Theatre Collective.

L’Arche Chicago’s Jubilee Anniversary Banquet, at which Laura’s Imagination Workshop group will perform,  will take place on Sunday, September 14th,  from 4-8:30 p.m.  at the Carleton Hotel, 1110 Pleasant St. in Oak Park.  For more info please visit the L’Arche Chicago website: http://www.larchechicago.org/events/

Photo: Laura Callahan-Hazard on stage with the Ravenswood Players.




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