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August 2nd, 2007

OUR TIME THEATRE

by John J. Flanagan

“Very moving,” “inspiring,” “wonderful,” “fulfilling,” “courageous!” What has Tony Award Nominees Kellie O’Hara and Daphne Rubin Vega and Quantum Leap star Scott Bakula searching for superlatives? It’s the 5th Annual Benefit Gala for the Our Time Theater Company, and all three have just performed an original musical with a talented group of 8-18 year old kids. What makes this theater company unique, however, is that Our Time is an ensemble of young people who stutter.

Our Time was founded in 2001 by Taro Alexander to “create a place where young people who stutter could express themselves without the fear of being ridiculed or rushed.” Himself a stutterer and a performer, Mr. Alexander and his creative team (including Musical Director Everett Bradley) have expanded the company to 25 children and developed an international reputation. The Our Time members not only perform, but they also write their own songs and plays. Each year the group writes a series of one act plays, in addition to writing the musical that is performed at the annual gala. Members of the company travel and perform around the country at conferences and events, and last year the company performed in Dublin, Ireland at the International Fluency Association’s Fifth World Conference.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders, stuttering is a “speech disorder in which the normal flow of speech is disrupted by frequent repetitions or prolongations of speech sounds, syllables or words or by an individual’s inability to start a word.” Although certain situations, such as speaking on the phone or public speaking, can make stuttering more pronounced, others, such as whispering or singing, can improve fluency. This was strikingly evident on stage during Express Yourself, the 5th Annual Our Time Benefit Gala. While some members stuttered during their spoken introductions or dialogue, no stuttering was evident during the songs. More importantly, the Our Time Members seemed completely comfortable and confident on stage performing with Broadway and Television stars such as Mariska Hargitay, Jesse L. Martin, Cynthia Nixon, Mary Testa, Michael Cerveris, Sherie Rene Scott, and members of the cast of Spring Awakening. Our Time teen member Andre Gillyard says in his cast bio, “I’ve done things and seen things that I wouldn’t have been able to see if I wasn’t in Our Time. I’ve acted and sung and I didn’t know I had those abilities.” 16 year old member Jonathan Greig writes, “Our Time has given me confidence as well as a place of refuge. I appreciate everything they’ve done for me.”

The overwhelmingly positive response to Our Time from children, parents, and the artistic community has inspired Mr. Alexander to expand the program. According to Mr. Alexander, in summer 2008 Our Time Theater Company will begin Camp Our Time, a summer arts camp for young people from all over the world who stutter and their siblings. The Company is also working on its second CD, which is scheduled to be released in spring 2008. The CD will consist of original songs written by the Our Time Kids and performed by the kids alongside professional recording artists. For more information about Our Time Theater Company please visit www.ourtimetheatre.org.

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