Message from Founding Director, Joanne Margolius

A magical journey of exploration, discovery and connection.

Hello, I am Joanne Margolius, Director and Lead performer of the Magical Experiences Arts Company. In 1985, whilst I was attending Art College in my hometown of London, I decided to volunteer for a Drama Therapy organization, Action Space London Events. I had no prior experience of disability, in fact I was mostly consumed by the ‘beautiful people’ of the fashion world, who were to be my clients when I graduated. What I did not expect that within hours of my introduction to these severely disabled children, I would be changing my life’s path. Six months later in February 1986, a new non-profit, a new art form, a new therapeutic method was introduced to the world.

Magical Experiences-a creator of a safe, nurturing interactive theater experience, where the disabled and non-disabled participants become connected through emotional exploration and tactile discovery.

Our mission is simple, to offer the most ground-breaking, innovative Arts programming to children, adolescents with severe multiple disabilities, or severe emotional disturbances, and adults in the last stages of memory impairment or dementia.

Therapeutically so much can be achieved. Anxiety, tension, frustration, anger can be soothed, calmed to the point of acceptance, peacefulness. Restricted muscles can be warmed and stretched. Suffering can be acknowledged and compassion offered. Achievements can be celebrated, shared.

Educationally, schools can embrace a new vision for bringing the world of science, literature, social studies and geography to their students. Landscape, cultures reveal themselves, each Play is a book opening its pages to our delight. Historical and fictional characters will hold up a mirror to our own lives-they will immerse us in stories that enrich our minds, our passion for living, no matter the daily struggles.

Creatively. Empowering a child, adolescent or adult, who, because of the severity of disability have been historically marginalized, even Theater neglected to offer them a ‘voice’, a ‘presence’ to inspire. The Magical Experiences cares only about ‘humanity’, no disability is too severe, no disease too chronic, no symptom too traumatic to prevent an individual from becoming a member of the theater community.

Welcome to the Magical Experiences Arts Company

MEAC is an Arts serving organization that provides innovative and creative theater programming to both day and residential schools and adult care centers. MEAC provides interactive performances which: empower, inspire and educate children, adolescents and adults with severe multiple disabilities in a safe, nurturing environment. The goal of which is to develop communication and self-expression skills. The performances provide individuals with disabilities an opportunity to fully participate and become engaged in theater at a high standard of excellence. Theater should be accessible to all Americans; MEAC has created a method that can make this goal a reality.

MEAC has a unique goal of introducing schools and nursing homes to its theater performances with the proposal to establish long term residencies. By offering these facilities either weekly or monthly theater interactions, MEAC is able to make a real impact for both the participants (students/ residents) and the staff working at these facilities. Using theater as a means of encouraging and developing communication and self-expression skills for individuals with severe disabilities has been embraced and implemented by all of our residencies. The students participating in the MEAC program have severe multiple disabilities and severe behavioral problems. To impact these behavioral problems and greatly reduce self-injury, aggressive behaviors these students must participate in an arts program that is especially created to meet their needs. MEAC allows all the multiple disabled students, especially the autistic students to retain the experiences and develop their emotional growth from week to week.

Creative Expression and Production

  1. The participants will use a variety of theatrical elements to communicate their feelings and ideas.
  2. The students/adults will reflect and develop the performer’s movements to explore characters and develop situations to dramatic problems. Emphasize is put on conflict resolution within the plays.
  3. The participants will be encouraged to ‘lead’ the performers and develop the stories through their own emotional responses and imagination.
  4. The participants will be able to touch and see a variety of textural costumes, cloth backdrops, props, and dramatic theater make-up.
  5. The students/adults will observe varies ways in which people can communicate without verbalization.
  6. The students will use a variety of loco-motor and non-loco-motor movements to express their responses to the play. Children in wheelchairs can be placed on floor mats and supported physically by aides.

Joanne Lewis-Margolius was only nineteen when she founded MEAC. To her great credit and as a testimony to all her hard work the company, which began as a local English theater troupe, developed into an International company. Following an AA degree at Barnet Art College, Joanne began a fashion degree at the Middlesex University. However, near to its completion, she embarked on a summer of voluntary work with a drama group called Action Space London Events. This was to change her life. The group introduced Joanne to the world of the disabled and theatrical expression. Inspired by this experience Joanne felt the need to create her own ideas about expression. She left college and trained with mime Adam Darius, ballet dancer Jacky Hands. and movement teacher Ronald Wilson. MEAC was born.

It began with a seven page proposal, a budget of $300 for equipment.

“Our presentation will consist of various instruments, costumes and props, but the key element we will use is our imagination. Our success will be measured by the energy put in by volunteers and artists alike. The. response of our participants, I hope, will be one of renewed motivation and expressed feelings of recognition as the individual is drawn out.”

In response to the proposal, the Haringey Arts Council provided the first grant in support of establishing the organization. In March, 1986 The Royal Society for Mentally Handicapped Adults (MENCAP) took MEAC under its wing by providing insurance and administrative assistance which allowed the group to reach its financial and professional goals. Local disability organizations gathered together groups of children and adults to participate in the twice weekly evening shows, and London based schools welcomed MEAC into their classrooms. The Borough of Haringey provided the troupe with a performance space and office – By July of 1986, the vision had become a reality.

”A London based Arts Company.-which does pioneering work with severely disabled – individuals; is going to West Germany to-take part in a major research project: The Magical Experiences Arts Company (MEAC) will spend six weeks at the University ofCologne, beginning in March. While the group is there, mental health. and education. experts at the University, recognized as one of the leading Institutions in the world for research into the subject of children with disabilities, will observe the company at work and try to analyze how the methods used by MEAC have achieved its historical breakthroughs with the -severely disabled. – Peter Scott, London. Gazette February 1996

Germany was just one of the many countries that discovered the ‘phenomenon’ of MEAC. Traveling throughout Europe, Scandinavia, Israel, and eventually America, the troupe evolved its philosophy and perfected two new methods of work: Emotional Stimulation Therapy and Historical Arts Education.

An excerpt from the published work: Fragmental Experiences and Impressions of the Magical Experiences Arts Company.
— By Professor Wolfgang Lamers and Dr. Theodore Hofman – University of Coloqne.

Each player’s receptivity and observations combined with their own unique artistic flair bring the play to life. It offers- room for adventures, moods, and feelings; through- happiness and high spirits; pain, sadness, disappointments and anxiety; physical and spiritual strength; through excitement and activity; peace and relaxation; and ‘submersion of character through comfortable closeness and through distance both physically and emotionally. The actors become equal partners with the participating individuals, and together as subject, they become the object of the play. It is a fascinating phenomenon to see the disabled and non-disabled partners, who are normally looked upon as unequal, due to their perceived limitations and social dependencies, in equal, mutual, and reciprocal relationships with each other. Rarely does one get to see the disabled become the supervisor, care aide and nurse of-their able-bodied counterpart. But MEAC makes it happen. It is difficult to explain this phenomenon, but it is truly amazing to witness.

MEAC’S first trip to The United States of America was comprised of six week tour of the United Cerebral Palsy Schools and Adult Day Center of Rochester, New York in 1990

As a farewell to the troupe, the UCP students showered Ashleigh and Joanne with artwork depicting their experiences during the performances.

   

In 1994 the troupe re-located to the United States of America. Beginning in 1994 MEAC conducted a school residency at The Maryland School for the Blind, which continued for 21 years. MEAC has also conducted a residency at the Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents (Severe Emotional Disturbances) since 1996, and The Delrey School (multiple disabilities) since 2000. In 2003, MEAC’s methods were viewed by representatives of Johns Hopkins Geriatric Nursing Dept. at the Copper Ridge Center. Following this performance, the troupe began programming for adults in the last stages of Alzheimer’s at Copper Ridge and remained performing there until February 2016. It currently conducts elder care programming at the Broadmead nursing home.  In 2014 MEAC began an annual National Tour program. Its first visit involved two schools in Southern California, the Wings Learning Center and the Avalon School.  In May, 2015 MEAC began a school residency at the Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired. In 2016 MEAC established two new residencies at The Chimes School, a Baltimore City school for students with low functioning autism, and The William S Baer School, a Baltimore City public school for medically fragile children. MEAC has been awarded the Cherry Adler Most Outstanding Children’s Theater Award three times.

MEAC has performed long-term residencies and presentations at the following facilities:

Adult Care Centers

  • ARC
  • Opportunity Builders
  • The Copper Ridge Center
  • Charles Town Communities
  • Broadmead

Schools/Treatment Centers

  • Maryland School for the Blind
  • Regional Institute for Children & Adolescents
  • The Delrey School
  • Kennedy-Krieger Institute
  • Cedar-Lane School
  • William S. Baer School
  • Rock Creek School
  • Ridge Ruxton School
  • Chimes School
  • Maiden-Choice School