Peter Blechman was employed with Opengate as a Behavior Analyst from 1986 to 2004. One of the most gratifying programs he was involved in creating during this time was the theater group, The Heart & Soul Players, who rehearsed and performed on the grounds. Peter relates that since his time with Opengate he has yet to see anything comparable to this group who were dedicated to putting on a good show and having fun doing it.
The group didn’t dress up in costumes or memorize lines. Everyone sat at a table and performers were given specific parts to read from a script. Hilarie played Hilarie, Debbie played Debbie, Caren was Caren, and Natalie of course, was Natalie. And yes, Laura was the dragon and she loved playing the dragon! The Heart & Soul Players gave performances for local community events, other agencies serving people with developmental disabilities, and a few end-of-the-year Opengate celebrations with families in attendance.
“I think the fact that the residents were playing themselves in the play was a lot of fun and even at times poignant. Actually, getting this large a group together to perform was often an adventure. There was always the show within the show.”
Participation in The Heart & Soul Players was optional and every performer had to earn their way in. If someone wasn’t ready to be a part of the ensemble that day, they always had permission to take a breather. On the other hand, if they had problematic behavior, they knew they could not attend that particular show. It was a great way to keep the focus on positive conduct knowing the show must go on, and that they were truly missed.
Peter reports that there was a lot of excitement and enjoyment for the residents, especially having sodas following each performance. The finest memory was when each player was introduced and took their bow after the show to thunderous applause. Other residents who were a part of The Heart & Soul Players are fondly remembered along with those mentioned above: Marc, Michael, Josh, Leslie, Ted, Lakisha, Marina, Ralph, John, Kathy, Scott, Deidre, Jerry, and Ed.
“From time to time when I meet an Opengate resident who performed in the community, after our greetings, we will reminisce about our time in the theater together.”
Currently, Peter Blechman is in private practice as a behavioral consultant. He works with the public schools in Westchester and with adults after hours. He is an adjunct instructor at Manhattanville College in the BCBA program and continues to incorporate theater into his work with youth and adults.
In his spare time, Peter has written and performed in one act plays at the Garrison 20/20 festival held at the Garrison Depot Theater. Along with his brother, Rob, he has written “Texas Vengeance,” and if the play is accepted, Peter and Rob will act in the roles of two brothers and the play will be directed by his son, Phil.