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Breaking Walls Builds Confidence

Katie Mann and Annie Klark were on a mission: to break down the “4th Wall” of the theater to give access to individuals with disabilities. Meeting through the theater, their backgrounds (Klark’s in theater and Mann’s in special education) were just the right mix to create something incredible for the disability community all over the state of Michigan with 4th Wall Kids.

And it all started with the Down Syndrome Guild of Southeast Michigan (DSGSEMI). The DSGSEMI was 4th Wall’s first client. Mann said that Paulette Duggins (DSGSEMI’s Executive Director) was willing to take that leap with them. "The program (and Katie and Annie) are amazing!" said Duggins. "What I find incredible is that this type of program allows each individual to showcase their uniqueness, their skills, letting them do what they are competent, confident and comfortable with." 

When Mann and Klark saw individuals with disabilities come through their program, they immediately saw the need to create something more expansive in order for the larger population to attain access to theater.

With no money to buy a theater, they opted instead to create a “mobile theater”, traveling to locations to hold their workshops. Little did they know how popular their “alternate” idea was. In 10 months, they had reached their 5-year goal.  Currently serving 104 organizations throughout the state of Michigan, they offer singing, acting, and dancing in each workshop as well as American Sign Language and modified movement. While they will write their own shows, they also have pre-written shows available for organizations.

From one-hour workshops up to a 12-week program, organizations can start slow and progress to a larger and more involved program. And with their new company, 4th Wall Backstage, they are expanding internationally with pre-packaged workshop materials.

A natural choice for building self-esteem and self-advocacy skills, Mann said that they saw this type of opportunity from the beginning. “We had seen [with the students in their home theater] the amount of growth they had experienced through the theater and how affirming it was and how empowering it was.” The pair also saw the benefits in terms of life skills such as maintaining eye contact and working together as a team to name a few. Klark said that they watch their performers’ confidence soar throughout the completion of a program.


DSGSEMI's theater workshops were part of their "Our Rockin' Teens/Adults" program, which was recognized with an DSAIA Affiliates in Excellence Award earlier this year.

DSAIA is partnering with 4th Wall Backstage to offer members a 20% discount off the pre-packaged resources. To learn more, visit our Discount Partner Page.


Thanks to Podio, we keep work simple!

We have made friends from numerous groups who are also members and they have freely shared advice, documents and support. We are so much stronger together! -Missy Holman, DS Foundation of SE New Mexico

About DSAIA

Down Syndrome Affiliates in Action started as a conference bringing together outstanding leadership from Down syndrome organizations around the country. Learn More

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