February 22, 2020

“Work In Progress”: A New Musical Takes on High Unemployment for Adults with Disabilities

While the general unemployment rate  in California fell to a new low of 4.9% in March of 2017, for people with disabilities, an astounding 66.2% were still unable to find paid employment, according to a new study from the national advocacy group, Respectability.

This persistent problem of unemployment among adults with disabilities is at the core of a delightful new musical from The Miracle Project called, “Work in Progress, ” now playing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. The large cast, ages 9-56 years, is composed of both disabled and non-disabled performers who stage an original musical that follows a group of recent “Miracle High School” graduates as they go out in into the “real world” and try to find jobs or go to college, only to find that doors are closed  before they can even get their foot in. As the lyrics to one song written by Music Director Zach Marsh poignantly say, “Give us a chance…give us a shot. Look at what’s there and not what’s not.”

The musical chronicles the journey of many of these high school graduates, showing the emotional angst and frustrations of young adults pursuing both college and non-college paths. For the college students, there are the high expectations of parents and the many stresses of being away from home for the first time. And for those looking to find paid work, no one wants to hire someone without experience, but how these students ever get experience if no one will give them the opportunities?

With a Broadway sound and texture similar to the musical “Rent”, this show is most exciting during the ensemble pieces, although there plenty of solos from the cast (many of whom have autism) that are also quite captivating. The book for the show was written by Maxell Peters, Zach Marsh, Miracle Project Founder and Artistic Director, Elaine Hall and Jeff Frymer.

The Miracle Project was created by my long-time friend Elaine Hall who was a top Hollywood acting coach before her adopted son was diagnosed with severe autism. When traditional therapies failed to help him, she developed her own innovative methodology, combining mindfulness and the expressive arts with what she learned from autism experts Dr. Stanley Greenspan, Dr. Ricki Robinson and Dr. Barry Prizant. Recently, The Miracle Project approach to working with children, teens and young adults with autism has been named as an evidence-based therapy, meaning it is clinically significant in addressing anxiety, expanding social skills and more, similar to more conventional therapies such as applied behavior analysis (ABA) or occupational therapy (OT).

One of the most interesting aspects of having an inclusive cast is that it is often impossible to tell which of the performers has disabilities and which do not, which is kind of the whole point. Now, if only we could convince more employers to feel the same way…

“Work In Progress” will be shown May 1-4 at the Lovelace Studio Theater at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets can be purchased here. 1491589567_Miracle_Project_Cast_1061x601

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