By: Lauren Speirs
With more than 20 community partners, The Naples Players (TNP) is leading the charge nationally in providing new and creative inclusive workshops. Spearheading their efforts is Director of Community Education and Wellness, Craig Price. New to the team and eager to lend her amazing skills to our community is Summer Pliskow!
Summer is from Wellington, Florida, and completed her Master of Arts in Applied Theatre, or community engagement using theatre for well being purposes, at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. She worked with the National Healthcare System (NHS) and held different workshops in care facilities and hospitals. Summer also worked with schools in underdeveloped communities and helped students who need more support in school. For example, to help students transition from elementary to middle school, Summer would use theatre to act out feelings they’re having and try out real-life scenarios in a safe setting.
After researching TNP’s website, Summer decided we had an inspiring program that she wanted to be a part of. “What I want to do is very niche and it’s something that really doesn’t exist in this country. After grad school, I wanted to be closer to home in Florida. I noticed all of the community partners listed on TNP’s website and got in touch with Craig (Price) right away and got to hear more about what they were doing.”
Of course, Craig and the staff at TNP took notice of Summer’s experience and brought her on in March of this year. Summer says, “The first month I shadowed and learned about the type of program they have here. I’ve been continuing on with those classes and making some classes of my own. They have a lot of improv workshops here and my style is a little different – I use more scripted material.”
Summer is passionate about using theatre for social, cultural, and personal well-being and designs workshops to build on all of these aspects. “Interaction is so important and promotes cognitive stimulation. For example, in memory care facilities, interaction prevents hallucinations and other symptoms of dementia. Group workshops are so valuable and important because they allow for that community aspect.”
With a background in arts and health, Summer says, “I’ve done a lot of programs in hospital settings. For example, I’ll go to a dialysis ward and do a movie with the patients where I get all of their creative ideas into a script. Working together as a group to create a project like that promotes well-being and socializing. Also, being able to have artistic license and create something allows them to have ownership. Most of the time, decisions are being made for them all day about what medications they need to take, etc, so this allows them to not only have an outlet but also make their own decisions. It allows for a more person-centric care – we allow them to be seen as artists and human beings rather than their label.”
Explaining her process for coming up with material, Summer says, “I’ve created movies, poetry, and scripts. I’ve also done interactive storytelling workshops in a memory care facility to promote cognitive stimulation. The material creation for the workshops depends on the participants. The classes are more beneficial and rewarding for them when they are personalized. I want to take note of what gets them smiling and excited – is it music? Does that really spark their creative side? If so, then I start with music and movement if that’s something they are already comfortable with, and from there I will challenge them with something new and different.”
Finding the best way to serve each participant’s needs comes with working with the same group multiple times. “If we have a one-time workshop with a group, I use the warmup to decide which direction to go and then best way for them to show off their creativity. As an instructor, it’s all about being flexible and reading the room. For example, is there any music that we play that’s triggering? You never really know what people are going through and it’s always our goal to spark creativity and joy.”
In general, Summer over prepares and comes up with different activities that will work for different accessibility levels. “There may be people who have no mobility or movement as well as people who are nonverbal but are able to listen. It’s important to come up with activities that engage everyone at the same time and there are different creative ways to accomplish that. If I bring a script in and find that some people can read, some people can talk, while some can listen and showcase it physically but not verbally, I know that there’s a part for everyone in the room. For example, someone can read the lines and their partner can act it out for them.”
Summer’s background in performance started at age three when she started dance lessons and in high school she landed the role of lead dancer in The Wedding Singer. “I fell in love with theatre and decided that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My undergraduate degree is in acting and I received a certificate in arts and medicine. When I was there I realized that theatre is where I made my friends and my support system – it helped me express myself. And through the arts and medicine program I realized that there is more to theatre than being on stage – it can be used to strengthen our community and ourselves.”
Outside of subbing in for Improv for ASD classes at The Naples Players, Summer just finished a month-long program of Expressive Theatre Therapy with Horses for the Naples Women’s Shelter at The Naples Therapeutic Riding Center. Summer says, “In all of this, we’re going into these community organizations to teach but I 100% learn as much from the participants as they do from us. I am equal with my students and am learning from them all the time. You’ve never met such creative improvers as you would from a care facility – I’m learning how to be a better actor and get a fresh perspective as well. It is by far the most rewarding job I’ve ever had!”
All of us at TNP cannot wait to watch the wellness program grow! Welcome Summer and we’re excited to see what you and Craig accomplish next.