Milford Adaptive Program presents ‘Frozen’

MILFORD — Finding the perfect programming placement for special needs children can be difficult. That’s where Milford Adaptive Program comes in.

The Milford Adaptive Program, better known as MAPs, was created last September to give children and teens with special needs a place to feel “safe, secure and accepted,” according to program director Marlene Sanchez. Programs range from book clubs to sports to drama.

“MAPs has the same philosophy as camp and gives them the same experience that they might not be able to participate in elsewhere,” said Emily Nolan, part of the leadership team.

Milford Recreation Department collaborated with Sanchez and the Camp Happiness staff to develop programs for children and young adults with special needs to create Milford Adaptive Program.

Michelle Vitelli said a lot of the program attendees have done adaptive programs like cheerleading, and tee ball, and that’s where the options stopped.

“A lot of our kids don’t get the choice or the comfortability to get the choice,” she said. “So with camp and Milford recreation, we can provide a place to provide options. They can choose to be in a book club, or they can choose to be in a drama, baking or sports club.”

This year, the program is expanding into drama, and it has been a fun and learning experience for the group, she said. The production of “Frozen“ will be held at the Parsons Complex Auditorium on June 10 at 6 p.m., admission is free, and there will be a basket raffle, a 50/50 drawing and donations will be accepted at the door.

“We have kids from kindergarten through 12th grade in the play,” said Vitelli.

Overall, there are 22 young people in the play. Clubs in general are capped at 10 to 15 youngsters.

Vitelli and Nolan knew the program attendees wanted to do a play, and they knew they wanted to perform Disney’s “Frozen.” The challenge was to make it an adaptive play so everyone could participate, no matter their level of ability.

“This entire script is inspired, from “Frozen” the movie, the Broadway Play and the “Ice Queen,” which is the Hans Christian Anderson story that inspired Frozen,” said Nolan.

Vitelli said they typed out a lot of things to make it more adaptable, but once they cast the play they had to retype it and make it even more adaptable.

“Once we cast it and had our auditions, we went through and figured out what kids are going to say those lines, and we adapted it again, to make those lines easier,” she said.

“We basically tailored the show for the kids, which is the nature of our adaptive program,” said Nolan. “We are tailoring this experience to best suit the needs of our population.”

Vitelli said they went through and highlighted everything they wanted to be in the scenes, and asked themselves how can they make the line simpler.

“The hardest part was deciding what to cut because there were so many Broadway songs that we needed to cut,” said Nolan. “We needed to move the story along while making sure everything is still accessible for our kids being able to do on stage.”

“One of our actors communicates through an iPad at school,” said Vitelli. “So we have created a button that she’ll press on the show day to give her line. So she still gets to participate and deliver her line, but just a little bit differently.”

Some of the participants didn’t want speaking roles, so they adapted the show to where the actors are on stage, but they don’t have to speak.

“We have kids who have non-speaking roles but still get the chance to be Anna or Elsa,” said Nolan.

Throughout the process they took things out from the script and added others like the narrator role and the Snowflake Ballet.

“We said, how can we man an ensemble without any words or any major roles, so we came up with the Snowflake Ballet,” said Vitelli.

“We’ve outlined what we want them to do, but if we see them veer off and do their own thing, we do not correct them,” said Sara O’Shea, MAPs volunteer. “So you will see in our show a kid who maybe shouldn’t be front and center stage at that part, and we let it happen.”

Sanchez said when they had their first practice, the actors were smiling from ear to ear while doing their parts.

“Their joy was unbelievable because they are so happy to be up on stage,” she said.

“This is Emily and Michelle’s creation,” Sanchez added. “We are lucky to have them in Milford being a part of this because this wouldn’t have happened without their dedication and creativity.”

Sanchez said the parents have peace of mind when they drop off their child at MAPs knowing that the team members are certified special education teachers and know how to handle different behaviors and disabilities.

“We also know a lot of the kids,” said Nolan. “Our first sign-ups were kids we had known through Camp Happiness, and it spread recently like wildfire. We have families coming from West Haven, Orange, Derby and Trumbull.”

Sanchez said they sent out surveys to parents and what they found was that the biggest interest was baking, drama and singing, and sports.

Some of the program offerings are the sandcastle and scavenger hunt club; summer book club for littles, middles and teens; a science club, a basketball club; and a karaoke club.

But with parents overwhelmingly also wanted some drama in the mix, which Sanchez said, led to Nolan and Vitelli putting together the production.