Many high schoolers will tell you that theater changed their lives. It builds confidence and provides community at a time of life when both can be in short supply. And, when the curtain goes up, as many young actors will tell you, magic happens.
Karalyn Joseph, A.B. ’21, would agree with all that, but in some ways her path to personal growth was a little different than most.
A longtime lover of performing, Joseph started an inclusive, accessible theater program designed for youth and adults who identify as disabled in her hometown of Kennett Square, Pa., as a high school junior in 2016.
The inspiration emerged from two experiences. As an adolescent, Joseph performed in a YMCA production alongside an actor with autism spectrum disorder whose social skills and ability to communicate and connect clearly rose, owing to the show. Then, at 15, she volunteered at a Night to Shine prom event for people with disabilities, hosted by her church. Her assignment: staff the karaoke room.
“It was my first exposure to a large group of people who weren’t considered neurotypical in a context that put them and their talents front and center, which unfortunately is not often the case,” Joseph recalled. “Everyone had so much fun. Some had incredible voices, and others just got up on stage and screamed for three minutes, but they loved it, and everyone cheered.”
The next day, Joseph applied for a community-service project grant through her church. She received the high school–level award of $3,000, and her vision became a reality. Since then, the group has staged “Seussical Jr.,” “Beauty and the Beast Jr.,” “The Lion King Jr.,” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”