Dana Brazil is changing the world -- our world. When I first started working with Dana, the director of education at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, the first thing I realized was that she was a culture changer. Her drive is matched only by her innovative ideas. In my first week of work, two months before we opened the arts center and four months before the school of the arts opened, she said to me, "You're from here and you're a writer. I got a grant for a sensory friendly show with Spencer's Theatre of Illusion and a workshop with Kevin Spencer for kids with special needs. I need someone to write a social story and I need a connection to the autism community. Do you know what a social story is, when can you have it written by and do you know anyone in the autism community?"
"Dana, it's your lucky day," was all I could think to say. I'd been writing social stories for Henry since he was 2 before I knew what a social story was. It was just the most effective way to get him to comply. Tell him a story and put something in his hands to remind him of what we said we were going to do.
As it is with Dana, we went way above and beyond. We produced a book and a video with a cast from Access Charter School. The sensory friendly show, quiet room and workshop was staffed by OCA with an invited audience from OCA and Access.
As it also is with Dana, I got sucked into her vortex of ideas and visions. "If you met Silvia Haas, the two of you would change the world," I said.
"I don't have time for that," said Dana. Which was true. She didn't have time to meet Silvia, the executive director of OCA, much less change the world with her.
But these two women are those kind of people. They drive ideas. The push agendas. They move organizations forward. They do it with their passion, their big ideas and their ability to motivate others and work tirelessly themselves. Silvia created OCA because she needed it for her son Matthew and the rest of us are along for the ride. Dana is creating an education programing that is world class to match a world-class performing arts center and in her first year the Broadway League (that's the Tony's, yes) gave her an award for her innovative outreach. Our job is to get out of her way or get onboard for the ride.
So I set up a meeting. It got canceled. I set up another one. It got rescheduled. Finally, there was a need and an idea. What if Dr. Phillips Center, who is partnering with Florida Hospital on arts and wellness, helped produce OCA's Theater Week as part of our summer programming? The campers would rehearse an original play and build the sets & props from their location and come to the arts center to put on their performance.
They met. They connected. They produced Theater Week. Now it's an annual thing. Dana needed more. They started a Theater Club. Dana had Second City lead an improv workshop the the Theater Club. Then she created a residency with Pilobolous @Play for the club. Silvia became the Confirmation Sponsor for Dana's kids. Dana's son is nicknamed Ricky Haas. I think they talk on the phone daily. Silvia expanded the vision for the OCA village to include an auditorium and updated the plans.
Dana's vision now includes a theater company of neuro-typic actors and actors with autism. They're not a club anymore. They are the Running Man Theater Company. She wants to tour.
For her birthday she started a fundraiser on Facebook to donate to the Running Man Theater Company in lieu of gifts. It's what I want for my birthday this year too. Happy Birthday to me. To Henry. To Dana. And to you. Throw a party. Get on board, because Dana's vision is coming your way and you need to get ready for your world to change.