Carmel mom inspired by son to start theater group for young Hoosiers on the Autism spectrum

CARMEL, Ind. – Something new is coming to The Cat Theatre in Carmel. A special Cabaret production put on by the Carmel Spectrum Players will have its inaugural show on November 1, and they are looking for more performers to be in the show.

The Carmel Spectrum Players believe anyone, especially those on the Autism spectrum, has talent, and those talents deserve to be shown on a world stage. Sometimes all they need is an opportunity to shine, and that’s what the group hopes to provide for those children and young adults.

The group is part of the Jacksonville Foundation; both were started by local mom Mari Sandifer. Her son, Jack, was born with Asperger’s. She says she struggled at first learning how to navigate life with a son with special needs.

“When he was younger, it was a time of isolation and darkness for me,” said Sandifer. “I isolated myself, and I was very sad and very frightened, I didn’t know what we were dealing with.”

She quickly realized that this unique journey with Jack was hers for a reason. She’s used what she’s learned to help other parents who are going through a similar situation. She even wrote a book to help others realize they are never alone.

“I would tell them that their child is not a mistake,” said Sandifer. “Their child is a gift from God and the child is created exactly how he was supposed to be.”

“Raising someone like Jack that’s so special and different has been a blessing,” Sandifer continued. “I had no idea when he was little what gifts he would give me in my life.”

One of those many gifts Jack would give her would be the inspiration to start the Carmel Spectrum Players.

Jack with mother Mari Sandifer

Jack took to singing and performing at a young age. It actually surprised Sandifer how much of a natural he was up on stage.

“When he was young, he was very dramatic in his play, and I just thought that was because of his unique imagination; it was always going to these special places,” Sandifer said. “But I didn’t know how it would translate in the real world and apparently it translates very well; he’s very sincere in his enthusiasm.”

One of Jack’s first shows was "The Music Man" at the Tarkington Theater. He was only in fourth grade.

“Honestly, I wasn’t even nervous,” laughed Jack. “I knew what would happen, I knew I’d be dressing up, I’d be going on the stage and singing. I was in the ensemble, but still, it was just fun.”

Jack has never seen having Asperger’s as a disadvantage in life. In fact, he sees it as more of a reason to perform; to be an inspiration for others on the spectrum.

“It’s helped me want to pursue my choir life, and it’s helped me want to keep taking shows whenever I can,” said Jack. “I think it’s helped me discover and unlock a whole new secret; a new way of expressing my voice and my talent and performance.”

Jack is one of the performers in the Carmel Spectrum Players Cabaret show. Of course, he plans on singing. But Jack says this time, it’s more than just about performing; it’s about motivating others to just go for it.

“It’s going to bring special awareness to other people who are on the spectrum,” said Jack. “I believe that me performing, I think by multiple children of autism performing, it brings awareness that autism isn’t just one thing. It’s a whole spectrum; it can come in many different ways.”

“I know that every person has an innate need to feel like they matter, and these kids are very special, and they have rich imaginations,” said Sandifer. “They have gifts to share, and they don’t always get an opportunity to shine. If we can provide an outlet and an opportunity to get the on stage and to perform and to hear that applause—that’s our goal.”

A night of Cabaret put on by the Carmel Spectrum Players is still looking for performers. If you or someone you know would like to join the show or if you want to buy tickets, you can find out more information at here.

 

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