Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

CFCArts Awarded For Making Theatre Accessible Through Innovation

CFCArts awarded for measurable success by National Organization for Arts and Health Arts.

Central Florida Community Arts (CFCArts) announced today they received the National Organization for Arts and Health's 2020 Hamilton International Arts in Health award in the Arts for Innovation category.

CFCArts program Upbeat! Musical Theatre Troupe serves actors ages 13-35 with autism, Down syndrome, and ADHD. UpBeat! produces multiple performances each year, including original plays and musicals. When live events shut down in March 2020, the organization pivoted to produce an original play entirely on a virtual platform. The new online experience not only gave local actors with varying abilities a way to stay connected through the pandemic, the virtual platform made the program accessible to other adults across the United States.

"Making the arts accessible to everyone is a pillar of our mission as an organization," said Joshua Vickery, founder and executive director of CFCArts. "One of the best ways we know to do that is to work with great organizations."

Partnering with Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida revealed a critical need, locally and on a national level. Adults with Down Syndrome age out of most programs starting at eighteen. The three-year partnership created much needed opportunities for teens and adults. While the program started with a focus on meeting the needs of adults with Down Syndrome, the goal of Upbeat! was to provide high-quality, customized performance experiences for actors of all abilities.

Parents made the best of the March 2020 situation despite their concerns about the loss of social interaction due to the quarantine. Actors rehearsed from their homes and were filmed via Zoom individually with the final performance edited together. Virtual backgrounds and how-to guides for the actors and their care partners were provided to help with the technical set-up and create a seamless production.

"Here in Massachusetts, Becca was part of a theater program," said Carol Yelle, mother to a sixteen-year-old. "They were only a few short weeks away from opening night and the show was canceled. This was heartbreaking for everyone. The music teacher at Becca's school suggested the Upbeat! program and it turned out to be a great opportunity."

Sandi Ward was also disappointed that her daughter Beckie, twenty-three, wasn't going to be on stage, but when Fairly Odd Tales premiered online, the family rolled out a red carpet, literally. "We dressed up and made it an event just like a movie premiere. We shared it with extended family across the country," said Ward.

The virtual program came with a surprise benefit. Along with the Central Florida participants, individuals from different states were able to participate. "We added 4 participants from outside the state and one from South Florida" said Kaileigh Anne Tayek, CFCArts director of education, program development and research, "We're very excited about the possibilities this creates for actors nationally."

Measurable success was discovered through caregiver surveys and results of the first production showed the significant difference in participants' lives:

  • 47 percent felt that the participant's auditory processing skills improved;
  • 53 percent felt that the participant's physical communication, problem solving, and reading comprehension skills improved;
  • 60 percent felt that the participant's memory skills improved;
  • 67 percent felt that the participant's social-emotional skills improved;
  • 73 percent felt that the participant's verbal communication/speech, creativity/imagination, and positive self-expression skills improved;
  • 80 percent saw growth in the participant's artistic development;
  • 100 percent felt that the participant benefitted from the enjoyment and fun of participating in the UpBeat! Program.

On Tuesday, October 20, 2020, NOAH announced this year's winners of the Hamilton International Arts in Health Awards.The Upbeat! program tied for first place in the Arts for Innovation category. The awards are designed to recognize individuals or organizations offering visual or performing arts programs supporting health care, educational and community needs. The awards were presented virtually during NOAH's 4th Annual National Conference.

The virtual program for the 2021 Upbeat! Theatre Troupe has expanded beyond Central Florida to those individuals in the United States. Interested adults, ages 13-35, can contact or call 407-937-1800 ext.719 or visit

Related Articles View More Orlando Stories   Shows

More Hot Stories For You