We are Artists Breaking Limits & Expectations

Our mission is to provide performing arts experiences through which individuals with Down syndrome and other intellectual and developmental disabilities build the confidence and skills to share who they are and all they are A.B.L.E. to do!

By placing participants with disabilities in the spotlight, A.B.L.E.’s work strives to shift societal preconceptions about disability, and build more inclusive, empathetic communities.


PROGRAM goals

  • Develop agency and independence

  • Create a safe and respectful space

  • Enhance verbal and nonverbal communication

  • Encourage movement and physicality

  • Value teamwork and cooperation

  • Build focus and concentration

  • Celebrate creativity and spontaneity

  • Strengthen social skills by developing positive peer relationships

  • Share our experiences with each other and our community

  • Have fun!


History

A.B.L.E. began in the fall of 2010 as the Teen Drama Troupe at GiGi's Playhouse Chicago. Initially a weekly meeting of 6 young actors with Down syndrome, the program quickly expanded to two classes a week accommodating an ensemble of 17 actors led by a roster of dedicated volunteers.  Inspired by this rapid success, a group of core teaching artists branched out and established A.B.L.E. as a 501c3 in 2016 to expand creative and social opportunities for the community with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

The core of A.B.L.E.’s programming are Ensembles. Supported by a team of teaching artists and volunteer facilitators, ensembles work together to create theatre and film projects while strengthening lifelong skills including communication, confidence, and cooperation. A.B.L.E.’s core Ensembles have produced an impressive range of projects ranging from original stories devised by the group to adaptations of Shakespearean classics shared on stage and screen.  A.B.L.E. collaborates with professional theatres for each production. Notably, A.B.L.E. has forged an ongoing partnership with Chicago Shakespeare Theater, collaborating on Twelfth Night (2016), Cyrano de Bergerac (2018), Thereby Hangs a Tale (2018),  As You Like It (2019), Reconnect (2022), and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2023). The Ensemble’s feature films, The Curse of the Tempest Jewel (2015) and The Spy Who Knew Me (2017) have been recognized by several festivals on the local and international circuits, including The Chicago Onscreen Showcase, The Courage Festival in Berlin, and The Awareness Festival. In the face of COVID-19, A.B.L.E. developed innovative virtual programming that expanded our reach far beyond our homebase in Chicagoland.

A.B.L.E. shares our approach through specialized workshops and on-site outreach programs for schools and community organizations. A.B.L.E.’s Teaching Artists and Creative Associates lead sessions that introduce performance techniques including Puppetry and On-­Camera Acting for those with I/DD. We also host Professional Development training for industry professionals interested in deepening their practices for inclusivity and accessibility. Past outreach partners include the PACE Program at National Louis University, Portola Valley Theatre Conservatory, The Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association, Northlight Theatre, and Northwestern University. A.B.L.E. was also selected as a Professional Development Provider through the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events in 2021 and 2022.

A.B.L.E. boasts a 96% program retention rate, and builds long-term relationships with our actors and their families. 84% of our actors have aged out of the public school system, and creative arts opportunities may no longer be accessible or affordable. A.B.L.E. offers free or reduced-rate registration for an average of 25% of participants each year. We work to reduce barriers for our participants, volunteers, and staff through our Tech and Travel Assistance Initiative which offers an average of $2500/year.

A.B.L.E. is committed to transforming leadership opportunities for individuals with I/DD in the arts. In 2020, we established our Program Advisory Council. This group of 4 actors with I/DD, 2 program parents, and 2 volunteers collectively shape programming decisions and initiatives, and ensure our community has an active voice in organizational strategy. In 2022, we launched the Creative Associates, a staffing initiative to train and employ longtime ensemble members to co-lead our outreach programs.  

In the 7 years since its inception, A.B.L.E. has more than tripled its program offerings and enrollment, and forged lasting partnerships with venues and artists in our community. Thank you for being here and helping us provide vital creative and social outlets for individuals with I/DD to share who they are and all they are A.B.L.E. to do.


Annual Reports