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What She Does for Love: Debbie Lombard
Shares the Gift of Theater with Exceptional Students

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What began as a volunteer effort to help a friend teach a drama class has grown into a passionate way of life for Debbie Lombard. And for the students who come through her Exceptional Theater Drama Class at the David Posnack Jewish Community Center in Davie, the experience is no less moving.

ETC Actors Trica & Nikki

“It is miracles happening on stage,” said Lombard of Coral Springs, who runs the class and is also the executive director of the Exceptional Theater Company.

Like the company, the class is an innovative theater arts programs for people with any sort of special need, whether it be physical or developmental. Some of the actors, who range in age from 5 to 21, are in wheelchairs and have difficulty moving, or even speaking. The goal of the class is to get them to express themselves on stage in whatever way they can. “We work with all abilities. There is no such thing as a disability with us,” said Lombard, the recipient of an Education and Community Development Grant from the Broward Cultural Council.

The class, made up of 15 students, meets twice a week for most of the school year. The students learn techniques in improvisation, movement and music. The program also enhances verbal skills, movement, self-confidence and socialization while encouraging free thinking. Their first production each year is a talent show, where the students get to pick their own numbers, costumes and choreography. For first-timers, it is a way to ease them into the spotlight.

“It gives them an opportunity to get in front of an audience for the first time and perform something they know and feel confident about,” said Lombard.

The young actors and actresses also performed a production of “Beauty and the Beast” earlier this year. They rely on the help of high school-age volunteers, called shadows, who are with them onstage helping with lines, gestures and anything else that is needed. The volunteers receive community service hours.

Audience members are taken with the enthusiasm and emotion the actors put into their unique performances. “The joy and love and talent that pour out of the actors are amazing. When those lights go on and they take the stage, you are moved,” Lombard said.

Lombard has been teaching theater to the special needs community since 1991. She started out helping her friend Nanette Mikes, who taught a special needs drama class for high school students at the Quest Center in Hollywood. Mikes eventually moved on, but Lombard stayed and saw a need to open the program to the whole community. The non-profit Exceptional Theater Company was eventually born and has since grown to more than 200 students of all ages. This past summer, ETC offered programs in at least 10 local facilities.
“It has spiraled in the best of ways,” said Lombard. A mother of four children and grandmother of two, Lombard, has been married to her husband, Scott, for 34 years. She has spent much of her life involved in community theater, summer stock, commercials and movies, and is very much the driving force behind both the company and the Exceptional Theater class. It is not unusual for her to put in 12 to 14 hours a day, long hours she doesn’t consider work.

“I get to play every day of my life. I do this for the love,” she said. She said the grant for the Exceptional Theater Class is vital because it provides special needs youth a way to grow and express themselves while immersed in all aspects of theater. Several times a year, they students attend other local theater productions, so they can experience the joy of theater from yet another perspective. Lombard said many times the students come back gushing with details about what they had seen and heard. “It opens their minds to new possibilities. That is what theater does,” said Lombard.

The Exceptional Theatre Company will host its 2010 benefit show on February 20 at Archbishop McCarthy High School, located at 5451 S. Flamingo Rd. in Southwest Ranches. The company will perform Cinderella.

More information : Exceptional Theater Company


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