Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Sense-Ability Ensemble performs 'What if Wilhelmina' at MSU Auditorium

March 19, 2024
<p>The cast of "What If Wilhelmina" performs the final number in the show at the MSU Auditorium March 16, 2024.</p>

The cast of "What If Wilhelmina" performs the final number in the show at the MSU Auditorium March 16, 2024.

Photo by Trina Fiebig | The State News

This past weekend, the Sense-Ability Ensemble from the Michigan State Department of Theater presented a sensory-friendly musical production called "What if Wilhelmina." This production was based on a children’s book written by author Joseph Belisle and based on a true story of his daughter

The Sense-Ability Ensemble is a group of MSU theater students who create multi-sensory, interactive performances for neurodiverse audiences. The group is led by Artistic Director and Children's Theater Expert Dionne O’Dell.

"What if Wilhelmina" is a story about a 7-year-old girl Faith whose cat, Wilhelmina, goes missing. In the story, Faith becomes overwhelmed by “what ifs” and copes through music, movement and friendly companionship with puppets.

According to O’Dell, the production was a “celebration of diversity and unity," representing inclusivity for all audiences. O'Dell said the Sense-Ability Ensemble tailors sensory experiences so audiences can be engaged throughout the performance

The ensemble organized pre-show activity stations which included face painting, coloring stations, photo stations and art displays from the book. Additionally, the group provided noise-canceling headphones and had student ushers to assist anyone with mobility needs

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Senior theatre major, Meleah Acuff who plays Faith in "What If Wilhelmina" interacts with the audience after performance in MSU Auditorium March 16, 2024.

Theater sophomore Cassidy Williams was one of the production's ushers and has previously worked with children a lot. Williams said she hoped audiences found enjoyment from the show.

“We worked with very young audiences, it was their first experience with theater, and it encouraged them to talk to the cast afterwards,” Williams said. “It was really revitalizing to see a younger generation to be really interested in the arts.” 

The play opened with a catchy song, greeting young audiences with theater senior Meleah Acuff, who portrayed 7-year-old Faith. Throughout the play, the cast interacted with the children using puppets and provided them with an activity book for each act

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Young audience locked into "What If Wilhelmina" performance at MSU Auditorium March 16, 2024.

Acuff said she enjoyed performing "What if Wilhelmina" because of the cast's engagement with the audience. She said it was her second time performing in a sensory-friendly production

“Every kid with everyone can enjoy the show cause it’s interactive, kids can come on stage, so they don’t have to sit still,” Acuff said. “They’re not forced to sit through the traditional theater environment.” 

Joseph Belisle attended the show with his spouse and thanked MSU’s Department of Theater. Belisle explained that classical artwork was his inspiration for the book

“The classical information helps inform what’s going on emotionally with a little girl ... with faith,” Belisle said. “What you just witnessed was three grueling days when me and my husband had our 7-year-old … she was just a wreck because 'Wil' was missing.” 

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The "What if Wilhelmina" stage at the MSU Auditorium March 16, 2024.

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