Over the years my parents and I tossed around an idea for a theatre school for children with special needs, and the idea quickly fluttered away each time we talked about it. This is the story of how that idea stopped fluttering, and started evolving.
Joshua’s Stage is the product of: my experiences and my passion for enriching the lives of children with special needs; my creative side that includes writing, directing, performing, singing, and dancing; following my parents’ advice, and my business background.
While in eighth grade I had the opportunity to earn credit as a teaching assistant for a special education class at my middle school. I worked one-on-one with students who had learning disabilities, and I taught several English/Language Arts lessons. I enjoyed the experience, and the idea of teaching hadn’t entered my world yet; I was headstrong about pursuing a career as a famous actor.
As a sophomore in high school I had the opportunity to earn credit as a teaching assistant for a 5th grade special education class working one-on-one with students and teaching several lessons. At that time my mother suggested that I consider teaching special education as my career, and I listened to my mother, and I started to think about it.
While a junior in high school, I was a classroom assistant for a special needs class at our Temple. I worked closely with a small group of remarkable kids who shined during their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.
During the summers prior to my junior and senior years in high school I had the opportunity to work as a classroom assistant at the Mary Cariola Children’s Center in Rochester, NY. My aunt and uncle live in Rochester, and my aunt was working at the center at the time. Working with children with significantly cognitive and physical disabilities was eye-opening at first, and within a day or two, I saw the kids just as kids. It was a beautiful feeling.
While in high school I also served as the teen representative for the Board of Directors for the area United Way. I watched first-hand as a large body of people all worked together to achieve the same important goal.
By the fall of my senior year in high school I was aiming to become an inner-city middle school special education teacher. I went to the University of Nebraska (Go Big Red!) and my advisor strongly encouraged me to pursue elementary education/special education, and that’s just what I did. While student teaching special education I worked one-on-one with a sixth grader who had cerebral palsy. During a class field trip he and I rode a horse together, and the excited laughter from that kid on that horse was a definite trail blazing experience.
As a child I wrote short stories and plays, and I performed puppet shows and rap songs with my sister Jenny. When I was 9 years old I wrote, produced, and directed a play called Jackie The Realtor. Jenny played the lead role as Jackie, and the neighborhood kids played the other characters. While the play didn’t win any Tony awards, I still think we were a hit.
Throughout high school I sang in the choir, and I was in our school’s Company. I started by performing a monologue as Eugene from Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs, then I worked as a back stage tech building sets for the school musical. The following year I performed in the The King and I as Captain Orton, Simon of Legree, and as a chorus monk. The next year we spiced it up a bit with Grease and I performed as Vince Fontaine proudly wearing a zebra tuxedo jacket, and as a chorus member. For my senior year finale performance, I played Grandpa in the play You Can’t Take It With You.
Staying true to the entertainer in me while in college, I worked as a mobile DJ for weddings, proms, reunions, company events, Bar/Bat Mitvahs, charity events, and a frat party or two. If you remind me, I’ll tell you about the time I almost hit a cow on the way home from an event, or the time when I DJ-ed out of my car to keep the wedding party going during a storm that knocked out the venue’s power.
In December 1998 I graduated, packed up a dorm room, and arrived in Austin, Texas. I taught special education for behavior disordered children in a social and behavior skills unit, and from there I taught elementary school children with learning disabilities. I made my way to teach high school special education English/Language Arts for students with learning disabilities, behavior issues, and other disabilities. Not letting my creative side down, teaching Shakespearean sonnets via studies of Outkast’s lyrics was a highlight.
I caught the bug of ambition and pursued an interest in educational administration. As the assistant principal of a charter high school, my creative side was utilized as I was also the school’s theatre arts teacher. I wrote and directed plays for the class to perform in front of the school.
After an amazing experience at the charter school, I re-entered the special education arena teaching emotionally disturbed high school students in a social and behavior skills unit, and I wrote mini-plays for the class that focused on interpersonal skills.
With the ambition bug still flying around, I gave administration another go. As the assistant principal at an elementary school I took full advantage of the fun-Friday assemblies and led the entire student body, faculty, staff, and parents in the Cha-Cha-Slide.
I cha-cha-ed out of administration and found a new journey in the corporate world. I was with Pearson for nine years. While at Pearson in December 2008 I vividly remember sitting in my cubicle thinking that someday I would combine all my experiences into something, but I wasn’t sure what. I decided that a needed ingredient to help me discover that something was an MBA, and I went ahead and acquired mine from February 2009 to December 2011.
The next bug I caught was the bug that was invisible for a while, and it brought me further into thinking and soul searching for what’s next…what do I want to be doing that combines my passion for special education and something else, but I wasn’t sure about the something else.
Then bam, like Doc Brown hitting his head on the toilet and seeing the flux capacitor, it was in September 2015 that my heart and head connected, and that’s when I saw it…the something else…that idea that typically fluttered away…the theatre school for children with special needs. It struck me hard this time. I immediately emailed my parents and told them about the idea, and they quickly wrote back with strong encouragement. I called my wife Lori, and I told her about it, and that I was going to pursue it, and she gave the okay.
Since that day of flux capica-ta-ting in September 2015, amazing things have been put into motion.
Joshua’s Stage is absolutely, without a doubt, beautifully evolving into that something else.