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creative:impact - Kids Recognize Them Wherever They Go! Meet Our Local Theater Megastars!

Sean Carter
Wild Swan Theater

They set out together to stage a few excellent and accessible children’s theater shows.  One by one, those shows added up to 40 years and the award-winning Wild Swan Theater.  Co-founders and artistic directors Hillary Cohen and Sandy Ryder charm David Fair and Deb Polich on this week’s edition of "creative:impact."

Deb Polich
Deb Polich, President and CEO of The Arts Alliance

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy.  In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of The Arts Alliance, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

Credit Wild Swan Theater / wildswantheater.org
(L to R) Sandy Ryder and Hilary Cohen

About The Wild Swan Theater's Co-Founders

Hilary Cohen

Hilary was one of the founders of Wild Swan Theater.  Before Wild Swan was a full-time occupation, she was also a professor of theater at the University of Michigan, where she taught and directed for twenty years.  Hilary has acted in or directed over 40 productions for Wild Swan and published a number of influential articles on theater and access.  She was a founding member of the National Association for Theater and Disability (which became the Association for Theater and Accessibility).  Hilary loves the collaborative spirit at Wild Swan and is grateful to be part of the wonderful array of theater artists who come together to make each play such a special experience.

Sandy Ryder

Sandy graduated from the University of Michigan in 1975 with a degree in theater.  She’s had various roles including preschool teacher (Chelsea Community Hospital CCC), clown, mime (Michael Filisky Mime Theatre & Magic Mountain Mime School), and many fun parts with the Black Sheep Theatre where she performed with an improvisational children’s theater company: “Traveling Smiles.”  One of her favorite roles was starting her own business in 1979, Say Cheese Cheesecakes, where she made many cheesecakes and met lots and lots of great people.  In 1980, Sandy co-founded Wild Swan with Hilary Cohen.  Since that time, she has created more than 50 roles for Wild Swan productions including Winnie-the-Pooh, Owl, Toad, Wilbur, and many other loveable characters.  Sandy has played roles for Purple Rose Theatre, Performance Network, Redbud Productions, and Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.

Wild Swan Theater
Credit Wild Swan Theater / wildswantheater.org
Wild Swan Theater receiving a donation

Making Drama Accessible to Participants with Disabilities

Dramatically Able is a Teacher’s Handbook of drama games for deaf, blind, mobility impaired and developmentally disabled children. Each activity facilitates creative expression and provides multiple opportunities to develop and improve social interaction and communication skills.

Drama is a creative art form. It is rich in opportunities for children to develop language arts skills. Dramatic activities such as role-playing, storytelling, and pantomime exercise the imagination and build communication skills. 

Dramatic activities in this handbook will compliment many educational objectives while developing communication skills and building self-esteem. Although all children can benefit from the activities, they have been designed especially for children with disabilities. 

Regardless of a child’s ability or form of disability, the activities will provide:
• A workout in verbal and non-verbal communication skills, as well as physical movement skills.
• An appreciation of cooperation and collaboration.
• An opportunity to feel successful.
• An increase in self-awareness and social confidence.

Dramatically Able was supported by grants from the following organizations:
• Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation
• The Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan
• The Frederick S. Upton Foundation
• The Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs
• The Pistons-Palace Foundation
• Very Special Arts/Michigan
• The W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Wild Swan Theater Awards

Wild Swan Theater has won major awards for its artistry, educational excellence, and commitment to youth with special needs, including:

2019  Community Impact Partner Award from Michigan Humanities.  This award is given to an organization that has brought to life a book, humanities project, discussion, or other humanities programs in an innovative or creative way, serving their community and our state.

2017 State History Award for Educational Programs from the Historical Society of Michigan for Rosie the Riveter and Additional Educational Materials

2016  Ann Arbor Area Arts Alliance 21st Century Award for Excellence in Education. This award recognizes those who have demonstrated – through action and accomplishment – progressive approaches to the advancement of the arts, science and humanities in Washtenaw County.

2016 Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from the U.S. House of Representatives

2009 Public School Program of the Year by the Michigan Speech and Hearing Language Association for its after-school Drama Club Program for students with Asperger’s Syndrome that used improvisational drama as a vehicle for teaching fundamental skills including eye contact, expressing and interpreting emotional responses, and the ability to empathize.

2008 Heartspring Award for Innovation and Creativity in Special Education Heartspring is a global center for children withspecial needs, and the organization has provided training to many other institutions for 75 years.  Through the Heartspring School, HeartspringPediatric Services, the Heartspring Hearing Center and Heartspring World Reach, the center hasestablished greater independence for children with disabilities.

2006 Honored by Ann Arbor Public Schools’ Educational Foundation at their Annual Recognition Dinner

2003 Excellence in Community Education Award from Nonprofit Enterprise at Work

2001 Great Lakes Community Arts Award which recognizes the exceptional accomplishments of Michigan arts and cultural organizations from Michigan Association of Community Arts Agencies (MACAA)

2001  James Neubacher Award from University of Michigan’s Council for Disability Concerns for 22 years of making theater accessible for more than 10,000 special needs children and adults.

2001 Excellence in Management Award in recognition of Exemplary Management, Effective Planning, Innovative Use of Resources, and Outstanding Achievements from Nonprofit Enterprise at Work

1999 Kathleen Power Collaboration Award in recognition of Exemplary Collaborative Efforts Among Organizations Working Together to Accomplish Their Mission from Nonprofit Enterprise at Work

1998 The Arts in Service Award from State of Michigan Governor

1997 Nonprofit Excellence Award from Nonprofit Enterprise at Work

1992 Annie Award from Washtenaw Council for the Arts in honor of outstanding contributions to the arts in Washtenaw County.

The Wilde Awards honor the best productions, performances, and technical work produced or presented by professional theaters throughout Michigan. Nominations are based on reviews written by EncoreMichigan.com’s team of professional critics.

The 2016 Wilde Award nominations for Wild Swan Theater are:

Best Theater for Young Audiences
Rosie the Riveter, Hilary Cohen, Director
Charlotte’s Web, Lauren Monsey, Director (Won the 2016 Wilde Award)

Best Performance – Theater for Young Audiences
Sarah Briggs, Rosie the Riveter
Sandy Ryder, Charlotte’s Web (Won the 2016 Wilde Award)

The 2015 Wilde Award Nominations for Wild Swan Theater were:

Best Theater for Young Audiences
Treasure Island, Hilary Cohen, director

Best Performance – Theater for Young Audiences
Sarah Briggs, Beanstalk: The Musical
Barbara Scanlon, The Ugly Duckling

Best New Script
Jeff Duncan & Brian E. Buckner, The Ugly Duckling

Best Music Direction
Brian E. Buckner, The Ugly Duckling (Won the 2015 Wilde Award)

Best Design – Costumes
Suzanne Young, Treasure Island

Statement from Wild Swan Theater: 

Wild Swan Theater has always been committed to compensating our artists for their artistic contributions to Wild Swan. We believe that artists should be paid for their work.   Everyone at Wild Swan is paid a fair wage - both our salaried staff of six employees and the more than 50 artists who work for Wild Swan on a contract basis each year.  That group includes designers, composers, directors, playwrights, actors, dancers, musicians, American Sign Language Interpreters, videographers,  and crafts people (prop builders, scenic painters, seamstresses etc.)  We value the work of artists and we believe we honor it through fair compensation.


Wild Swan Theater

Wild Swan Theater Company Bios

Wild Swan Theater Contact Info

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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