By Beth Lederer
Judy Goodman teaches with a purpose and is making a difference in the lives of the disability community in San Francisco. A long-time teacher for the Accessible Theater Arts class in the Disabled Students Programs and Services (DSPS) department at City College, Goodman is preparing her students at the Mission Campus for the highly anticipated end of semester performance, “In the Heights.”
Goodman has adapted and directed Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical for the Accessible Theater Arts class. The two performances are scheduled for December 16 at 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. in room 109.
Goodman’s accessible theater arts class was in jeopardy of being eliminated when budget cuts threatened the DSPS department in the academic year of 2009-2010. Twelve years later the class is still going strong with many of the same students in attendance.
Goodman was hired by DSPS in 2006 and became a full time instructor in 2017. She received her masters in theater education from Emerson College. Her training is in theater, dance and visual arts.
The joy that manifests in Goodman’s theater arts classes is contagious. Goodman estimates around 75-80% of her students have participated in her classes for over ten years.
Goodman believes in building community and a sense of trust. “That’s the most important thing to me is their self confidence, their personal growth, their enthusiasm for art-form as they are learning theater techniques,” Goodman said.
She wants her students to feel encouraged and to feel safe to try new things. “Self expression is very important to me, whatever project we do, I’m looking for ways to personalize it and make it more meaningful and age appropriate,” she said.
Throughout the class period, Ane Voong who has attended the theater arts classes since 2005 and has taught her own yoga class at the ARC, feels free to be self expressive. She executed beautiful lines, in a ballet-like dance as she gracefully glided throughout the spacious, wheelchair accessible room 109.
Goodman is rehearsing with her Friday class for the performance “In The Heights.” Most of the students participate fully. Their eyes concentrate on the scripts and are fully engaged. Goodman also looks at their attention span and receives enjoyment from her students wanting them to be engaged without being prompted.
There is a huge amount of diversity within the class in how much the students can participate. It is a collaborative effort between Goodman, the support staff, the students and the caretakers.
There are some students who have limited mobility and others who have intellectual disabilities. In the Friday class, most students can read from a script although if they are lacking in those skills, support staff is available and eager to help them with the lines.
The classes are very well thought out and run very efficiently. For many of the students, there is comfort knowing there are classes to look forward to each week.
Both virtual and in person theater classes start with the opening circle where it feels like a joyous celebration, a dance party. This may be the funnest part of the class and the most inclusive. The Friday class danced to Van Halen’s “Jump,” Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop That Feeling,” and Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.”
In the opening circle, each student gets to have the spotlight put on them. The whole class is supportive, clapping for their classmates as the student enters the circle to showcase their creative expression. There are shouts “Go Danny, go Paul, go Raymond, go Kerry, go Tyler, go Sally, go Anna, go Jessica.”
Getting into the opening circle is not easy for everyone although every student contributes what they can. The students with limited mobility go into the circle and dance, maneuvering their wheelchairs or their caretakers lift them and walk them into the circle where they can be spotlighted.
The students show compassion and patience for each other’s disabilities. This was demonstrated when one student got emotional during the opening circle.She started to cry thinking about her birthday that was soon approaching. The whole class went into an impromptu singing of “Happy Birthday” with the guidance of Goodman and the volunteer pianist, Paul Griffiths.
Goodman receives respect and admiration from her students. They respond positively to her teaching style, giving her full attention.The scenes move swiftly as many students are pushed to leave their comfort zone. Each class she aims to complete four or five scenes.
Goodman believes in her students’ potential. “I see growth in their ability to portray a part other than themselves, project their voices and overall self-confidence to perform on stage,” she said.
Monday and Friday theater classes have a different format. On Mondays, the class is done virtually.
Hannah Thomason, Assistant Supervisor-Adult Day Services for Pomeroy Recreation &
Rehabilitation Center(PRRC) is a supporting staff in the virtual class and likes seeing the students participate in a meaningful and creative way.
Lanier Green is a middle aged student, who takes theater arts classes virtually on Zoom. Thomason describes Green as someone who has been attending PRRC for the last 46 years. He takes a variety of classes both virtually and at PRRC that focus on encouraging self expression and promoting personal achievement. For Green, taking classes leads to greater independence.
Green said, “Dancing and movement are my favorite parts of the class.”
For Green and many other participants, the quality of their lives are improved by having these classes available to them. “I look forward to it,” Green said.
In the Friday afternoon class, Goodman leads the class in voice exercises where they practice projecting their voice and articulating their words. The class repeats after Goodman, “Dominican Republic, barrio, fashion designer, abuela.” The class shows enthusiasm for this exercise. For many students, saying the more difficult words is a good challenge.
Paul Griffiths has a multitude of titles. He is the volunteer pianist in the class whose piano playing uplifts and energizes the class. He is also a support staff and transports a few students to the theater class from the agency, Work Link.
Griffiths enjoys seeing the growth of the students. “The program is really good for giving people confidence in reading and public speaking. You can see people blossoming. It’s amazing to watch the play all come together. I love to contribute something myself personally. The music kind of knits everything together.”
Goodman, Griffiths and the students added a little San Francisco flair to the musical with their original song, “In the Heart of the Mission.” Goodman wrote the chorus and the students contributed individual lines about the Mission. Griffiths composed the music.
To get ready for the big performance the students practice singing, dancing, learning the rhythm to a song, reciting a rap poem and rehearsing different acts.
When asked about leading roles, Goodman said, “It’s all ensemble based and all students play multiple parts.”
There is a lot of enthusiasm in the opening act when the whole cast says, “Welcome to Washington Heights” and then the narrator says, ”This is the story of a family, a community of unity.” Then in unison, projecting their voices, the whole ensemble repeats it back.
As Goodman is figuring out a scene, an “aha” moment occurs. Goodman said to the class, “Isn’t it so much fun to sing together in person after so much time on Zoom?”
Both Kris Moser and Richard Downing accompanied their daughter Anna to class. Downing lifted Anna from her wheelchair and brought her into the circle during the opening circle. Downing was good at projecting his voice and appeared to enjoy participating in the rehearsals for the musical.
Moser brought Anna into the circle during her scenes. Anna’s talker is programmed to say her lines. In the class everyone gets to participate. When it was Anna’s turn, Moser directed Anna to touch the square on the screen. Anna participated to the best of her ability which was a source of pride for Anna and her family.
Bob Fitch, who taught for DSPS for 20 years, visited the drama class at Mission campus. “Free community classes are so vital for socialization, community building and preventing isolation. Isolation is often a precursor to health problems,” Fitch said.
Vernae Galla read, another student in the class, said her favorite part of the class was, “We just don’t have to be ourselves, we get to play different characters.”
Student Kerry Yee said, “I get to see everybody from different agencies. I like seeing all my friends, I get to not be myself. I get to be a different character. I get to leave the house. This is my favorite class.”
Goodman’s class demonstrates that when students are given the chance to succeed, with the right accommodations as provided by the DSPS department, true magic can happen in the classroom.