Established community theater program recognized by Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR) as highly beneficial to individuals with disabilities

ProAct, Inc., a nonprofit serving people with disabilities based in Eagan, received a Life Enrichment Award from the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR) for its innovative ProAct Playhouse theater arts group.

“Community-based providers are at the center of Minnesota’s effort to help people with disabilities to live fuller lives,” said MOHR President Julie Johnson. “Excellent programs give people options to engage and thrive in their communities.” The MOHR organization represents more than 100 such day programs across the state.

“Our goal is to enhance self-esteem, build communication skills and professional presence,” said Matt Briggs, co-director for ProAct Playhouse and a designated coordinator for ProAct in Eagan. The group started in 2006 as a classroom tool to help ProAct participants with disabilities to find their identity and voice through fine arts.

What began as a mix of physical, verbal and memory-based activities to build self-esteem has expanded to full public performances before larger audiences that tackle controversial topics, Briggs explains. Another important aspect is the “person-centered” approach of the program, he said. Participants with disabilities have a say in their roles, the stories and how best to tell them.

“They are actively involved in all aspects of the production, from script writing to musical choices,” he said. “Roles and speaking lines are designed to help each actor stand out on stage, while also challenging them in areas in which they would like to grow.”

The Lakeville Area Arts Center hosts two ProAct Playhouse performances each year. The group’s goal is to operate using a professional theatre company model that includes selling tickets and paying actors for their work. Funds are currently raised through donations from audience members and requests made by the ProAct organization.

Johnson said Minnesota has always been a leader in the provision of services for people with disabilities, and MOHR members like ProAct play a crucial role. “We are connected as a community, and service providers are mission-driven by staff members who care deeply for the people they serve. That’s how individual lives are enriched.”

For the future, Briggs said ProAct Playhouse wants to add classes in voice and articulation, costume and set design, improvisation and other training. It also hopes to find a permanent rehearsal space. He said grants, fundraising and production performance fees will be important to the program’s future.

Presentation of the Life Enrichment Award was at the Lakeville Area Arts Center, before the group’s latest production, “Welcome to Our World.”
The nonprofit’s state association and award organizer, MOHR, has a mission to advocate and support its nonprofit members in providing meaningful services to persons with disabilities and communities served. Members are committed to respect for each individual, a person-centered approach and expanding opportunities. More information is available at mohrmn.org.

Photo: Julie Johnson, left, president of the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR), presented a Life Enrichment Award at Lakeville Area Arts Center to leaders of ProAct Playhouse, a drama program for individuals with disabilities. From her left are Co-directors Matt Briggs and Amanda Thomm, and Production Director Kelly Campion. Briggs said the goal of the program is to enhance self-esteem, build communication skills and professional presence.