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Play highlights synergy when nonprofits collaborate

March 21, 2020

The play, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” highlights the synergy created when two of the Cape Region’s foremost nonprofits collaborated.

Clear Space Theatre Company has an enviable record for collaborating with other local organizations, including Beebe Healthcare, CAMP Rehoboth, Immanuel Shelter, AIDS Delaware and the Fund for Women.

Its latest partnership was with Children’s Beach House, whose mission is to help children who have communicative disabilities and other special needs, helping them be successful in life and reach their highest potential.

The arts are known to be a pathway to the heart, mind and soul, which was beautifully proven by the Clear Space production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” The play is about Christopher, an adolescent on the autism spectrum, who sets out to determine who killed his neighbor’s dog. Ocean City native Gavin Conner played Christopher, turning in a beautifully nuanced performance which helped the audience gain insight into the interactions of a challenged child with the people in his life.

Many in the audience were moved to tears. This was theatre at its best, providing a moving experience and insight into a world that most people probably don’t understand. It’s hard to imagine a more effective way to explain the importance of what Children’s Beach House does.

This production also perfectly illustrates how Clear Space, through its arts institute, provides training and experience that changes the lives of its own child actors. In other productions of “Curious Incident,” Christopher has been played by professional adult (but young-looking) actors. Clear Space decided to cast 16-year-old Gavin Conner in the role. Connor is a junior at Stephen Decatur High School in Berlin, Md.

Whether it’s presenting entertainment or discussing controversial, weighty issues, a theatre company needs to train and nurture actors regardless of age. For this purpose, Clear Space created its Performing Arts Institute. In many ways, the institute’s goals are very similar to those of Children’s Beach House, “to move students through a logical progression of learning that will allow a sense of self-confidence and ownership of the arts.” PAI helps its students collaborate and flourish, understand how to participate in creative process, and build the self-confidence that enables them “to find a larger, more expansive version of self to guide change in the world around them.”

Conner is a great example of how a Clear Space student succeeds. His first show at Clear Space was four years ago, a 50-minute production of “Into the Woods Jr.” He has performed regularly in the Spotlight on Young Performers productions and turned in a brilliant performance as the title character in last season’s “Willy Wonka.” He also turned in a superb performance as Christopher, drawing on extensive research as well as personal experiences with his brother who was born prematurely, and with autistic students he knew from elementary and middle school. He also performed in the ensemble for the musical “Kiss Me Kate.” While Conner is a more seasoned singer and dancer in musicals, his convincing, nuanced performance as Christopher made him stand out among an experienced cast of adults. Also outstanding was the knowing direction by Mary Caligiure, herself a licensed creative arts therapist who currently teaches at the Southern Delaware School of the Arts.

When Gavin Conner started at Clear Space in 2015, he probably didn’t know that acting would become his life’s passion, but now he has grown into a confident young man with impressive skills in singing, dancing, and acting. He can relate and collaborate beautifully with both his peers and adults. As a junior, he’s now investigating his choices of schools to study theatre, and he certainly shows great promise for continued success.