Taishoff Foundation grant expands All Star C.A.S.T. program

March 18, 2013

In the Spring of 2012, the Taishoff Family Foundation awarded $50,000 to Professor Elizabeth Ingram of the  Department of Drama at Syracuse University to expand The All Star C.A.S.T. (Community Actors and Students’ Theatre, formerly known as The Young Actors’ Workshop) Program. This initiative began more than 20 years ago as an effort to provide an outlet in the theater arts for young adults with special needs and to give the drama students experience working with them.All Star C.A.S.T.

All Star C.A.S.T. (ASC) includes four groups–a young group with actors aged 8-12 years, a middle group with actors aged 18-30 years, and two senior groups. The groups meet for workshops once a week to explore theater games that go toward creating a script, rehearsals and a production at the end of the semester.

The drama students–or facilitators–design the program for the term, guiding the exercises, producing the play and acting in the show with the community actors. The workshops have a faculty adviser who meets with the facilitators each week overseeing the classes and the productions. Drama faculty members also offer important input to guide the facilitators in exercises, and in the first three weeks of the semester, there are workshops for the facilitators to explore different approaches and techniques. In 2010 Larry Elin, Steve Davis, and Doug Quin, professors at SU’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, produced the documentary film People Like Me, which is about the group’s work. The film has been highly successful.

All Star C.A.S.T.With a goal of expanding the project, the generous gift from the Taishoff Family Foundation allowed Professor Ingram additional time and resources to pursue three specific objectives–to develop a new training manual for new workshops and enhance the project’s web presence; to develop formal workshop processes and materials for new groups in other cities; and to facilitate the creation of 5 to 10 new groups in other communities.

All Star C.A.S.T. has now been presented to institutions from South Carolina to Texas to Pennsylvania and varying points in between. A successful training workshop was held on SU’s campus in November of 2012 and another is scheduled for March of 2013.

Responses from the workshops have been overwhelming positive. For example, a faculty member from Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina shares, “I learned much that I will be able to incorporate in our summer program. The joy on the faces of the actors tells the tale. The facilitators will be able to reap the benefits of their involvement for years to come and in ways which may surprise them. You have an amazing program. Your love and devotion to the program and all of the participants, including parents and caretakers, is a rare gift. Thank you for sharing it with me.”

Thanks to the Taishoff Family Foundation gift, Professor Ingram has the Spring semester ahead, where she will teach the weekly ASC program class and then be free to travel further afield and contact other universities to give workshops and presentations. ASC will also continue to support the long-standing groups in the SU drama department and work in collaboration with several departments at SU, including psychology, education and exercise science, to develop new measures of the effectiveness of the project for the community actors, drama students and caregivers/families. This research promises to provide greater insight into the impact of the project and help continue to refine the training processes using the best empirical evidence available.

All Star C.A.S.T.’s Mission

ASC’s mission is to provide a safe, non-judgmental space for community actors and drama students to come together to explore their creativity; to encourage communication, group awareness, sensitivity, sharing, confidence and personal affirmation; and to re-awaken a sense of “play” and joy in acting, when out of the competitive arena.

The Taishoff Family Foundation

Lawrence B. Taishoff was the son of Sol Taishoff, founder of Broadcasting magazine. When growing up, Lawrence witnessed his cousin’s child being sent to an institution once it was discovered that the child had Down syndrome. Never forgetting that image, Lawrence devoted his life not only to broadcast journalism, but also to aiding in research and educating society about Down syndrome.

Though Lawrence passed away in 2006, the Taishoff family legacy continues through the third generation of Taishoffs. U.S. Navy Captain Robert Taishoff, a Syracuse University Trustee, is the chairman of the Taishoff Family Foundation, whose giving is primarily for education, medical research and health associations, children, youth, and social services and Christian churches and organizations. Robert and his wife, Laurie, both graduated from Syracuse University (in 1986 and 1984, respectively). They have a daughter named Jacqueline, who has Down syndrome. Robert and Laurie established the Lawrence B. Taishoff Center on Inclusive Higher Education in the School of Education at Syracuse University in hopes that they can help develop national standards for inclusive higher education.