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Director Britt Burr talks about the Arc Carroll County's Autism in Motion Program and Barrier-Free Theatre.

Participants in The Arc Carroll County's Barrier-Free Theatre Company took to the McDaniel College stage Saturday afternoon for one final production under the umbrella of the organization.

The show "Nature vs. Nurture" featured 12 performers from The Arc Carroll County's adult autism program as both actors and the creative forces behind the script. According to Britt Burr, director of the show, the piece was created through a process of improvisation and refinement to help find the story that the performers wanted to tell.

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"They are in charge of the parts they're playing, and they wrote the show and came up with the story," Burr said. "All I'm in charge of is translating that into a script."

The show Saturday involved four groups who all converge at Cunningham State Falls for a camping trip, including two families, a group of Park Rangers and campground thieves. Burr said she was impressed by the group and the themes it began to touch upon in the improvisation work.

"It plays with socioeconomic status a little bit," Burr said. "At the beginning of the rehearsal process, someone brought up the concept of a poor family versus a rich family and the differences between those two. We started brainstorming and came up with the idea that there aren't as many differences and we're more alike than we thought."

To help come up with the script, she said actors pulled from their own lives. Actor Brian Nobles said it was fun to get on stage, since he hadn't acted since his sophomore year of high school. He said it wasn't too difficult to come up with ideas for the show.

"To be honest, I do a lot of improv in my head," Nobles said. "It's not all that different. It's nerve-racking, yes, but it's cool."

While Nobles said it was his first time on stage in a while, Caitlin Allen, who played one of the thieves in the show, said she hopes to become an actress one day.

"I started out with Shakespeare," Allen said. "I'm doing musical theater and I'm doing voice lessons. I like that you can be a different character when you're on stage."

Though this is the final show for the Arc to host Barrier-Free Theater, it is also the start of a new journey for Burr who plans to open her own theater company, Barrier-Free Theatre Company of Maryland, in the upcoming months.

Burr said she plans to use the Barrier-Free techniques with groups for children, the elderly, those with intellectual disabilities as well as continuing the autism program under the new group. Burr said this kind of theater work is a vital tool in working with different groups of people.

"The key part of it helps with socialization and collaboration with adults on the spectrum," Burr said. "So by them rehearsing different scenarios and building friendships and creating something from nothing that's their own and unique to them, it helps with self-confidence, self-esteem and building relationships."

Burr said this is particularly important for adults who have graduated from high school or college programs, because it can provide a sense of structure that it lost without designed classes. Burr said among all of the benefits the Barrier-Free theater style provides, there's still one that's all important.

"I can tell you a lot about socialization and collaboration which is so pertinent and true, but the main thing is they're just having fun," Burr said. "By just having fun and having joy coming into their lives, they can go into the world feeling like they have a purpose."

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