Scott Evan Davis makes musical theatre with and for autistic children.

 

Scott Evan Davis

Scott Evan Davis

Scott Evan Davis is a New York based composer and lyricist. Two years ago he was hired by Arts Connection, whose mission statement is,

To make the arts an essential part of education, we connect artists with children, families and schools in creative partnerships for teaching and learning.

The school concerned was Spectrum School, a school where students are on the autistic spectrum. Talking exclusively to Autism Daily Newscast Scott further explains,

“They needed a composer as they wanted to write an original musical. Their teacher, Tessa Derfner, wanted to figure out a way to do it, so they brought me in to interview. After meeting the kids, and Tessa, I knew that I wanted the job. Luckily, they wanted me too, and I was hired.”

The students wanted to write and perform their own original musical and with Scott’s help they were able to do so. Scott goes on to explain about the creative process.

“At the first session, I talked to the kids about what story they wanted to tell. First however, we had to talk about what makes a good story and how it needed an objective, conflict and resolution. The kids were very adamant about one thing….they wanted the story to be about a group of kids with autism and how they are treated differently. After a few sessions of brainstorming, they came up with an idea that a group of kids with autism in school were bullied and ridiculed.

“One day, because of a huge storm, they all found themselves waking up with special powers. They became silent superheroes in a sense. Throughout the course of the play, they explore their powers and decided they want to use them for good. So they confront their bullies and all of the people who put them down, and end up saving the school from closing. This became ‘A Powerful Day’.”

With the storyline in place it was then Scott’s job to write the songs with the students and to create ideas on what the songs should be about. Scott explains that after talking to them about their ideas for each song he would write down their thoughts and would then go home and write the songs.

“By the third or fourth rehearsal it became quite clear that something special was happening.”

Scott tells of how one day during the rehearsal process that they were visited by people from playbill.com who wanted to watch the rehearsal and chat to the students and all involved afterwards.

“It was about 10am, and we were preparing for rehearsal when people started shuffling into the auditorium. Tessa hit me on the arm laughing and said “That man that just walked in looks just like Stephen Sondheim”. I barely paid any attention to her, because it was silly, but I looked and said “You’re right, weird!” The closer he got to the front of the house, the more I saw that, it WAS him. I couldn’t believe it, considering he is my idol as far as a lyricist is concerned.

“Apparently, he heard about the work we were doing, and wanted to watch the rehearsal. So, with that, I had to regroup myself, and go to the piano and have a sing through with the kids. I can proudly say that my song ‘If the World Only Knew’ made him cry. That was the best day of my life.”

Scott and children interview for NBC

Scott and children interview for CBS

The following week the students performed the show four times and the musical was hugely successful. Shortly afterwards they were presented with the Musical Theatre International (MTI) Courage in Theatre award for ‘A Powerful Day’. The following year Scott was asked to go back and do it all again. Scott explained to Autism Daily Newscast that this was right after Hurricane Sandy had hit New York.

“Tessa and I both thought we should write a show about their experience of losing power for so long and what the destruction of the hurricane meant for them. We wrote a show called A Light in the Dark“.

Scott goes on to explain:

“Because I had worked with them before, this one was a different experience, but just as wonderful. They had a beautiful show and we were all very proud of it.”

Since the production of ‘A Powerful Day’ the program has expanded considerably and it is now known as the STAARS program. Scott explained that it is a “sort of a FAME for autism in New York city.” The Spectrum School, District 75, is now a performing arts school for autism. Scott voiced what this means to him.

“I think that out of everything my career has allowed me to experience and do, this is by far the most rewarding. I am honoured to be back this year again. I also am working on a full scale musical called Indigo, centering around an autistic child as the lead. I am excited about that show.”

The Performing Arts School have been given awards; have recently been interviewed by CBS and Scott regularly performs at autism benefits. Here is a performance of ‘If the World Only Knew’ by Joshua Dixon, which is the opening number from ‘A Powerful Day’.

Scott ends with these final thoughts.

“Working with autists….I call them autists because they are artists with autism……has changed my view on the world. They just want to be understood and to feel respected and validated. Hopefully, that is what I am providing them with.”

The final chorus of ‘If the World Only Knew

‘If the world only knew what I could do
I would shine in glory
If the world only knew what I could do
Then I’d tell a different story.
If the world only knew what I could do
Finally they would see
I am just what I’m supposed to be.’

You can visit Scott Evan Davis’s web site here or join him on Twitter.