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Reflecting On a Special Partnership: Search Inc. and Northwestern

By Tina Zemen, Community Education and Visibility Arts Division Manager

Individuals and staff from Search Inc. had the privilege of collaborating with the Northwestern University Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts' students and staff through their production of “The Prom” in November.   

If you are not familiar with the musical “The Prom”, it is a story that follows an LGBTQIA+ high school student and her peers fighting the PTA after they cancel prom because she invited her girlfriend to the prom as her date.

“The Prom'' is based on a true story by Constance McMillen. In her original story, when Constance shows up to prom she is joined by students with disabilities who did not feel welcome at their alternate prom. The story explores the similar challenges that the LGBTQIA+ community and people with disabilities face.  Through our collaboration with Northwestern, we wanted to dive deeper into that original overlapping storyline. 

Though the subject matter was a little heavy, let me assure you this collaboration brought brightness and a deep connection to all involved! We began the collaboration by presenting  our signature Disability Awareness Training (DAT) to the team at Northwestern. This was a great way to start off because it offered the Northwestern team and our participants the opportunity to  interact with each other in a safe, supportive environment.  

Tor Campbell, a key collaborator in the Northwestern partnership shared that, “the Disability Awareness Training (DAT) wasn't your typical serious workshop. They brought the sparkle and joy, turning a heavy subject into a delightful experience. It was like mixing a little comedy into a serious movie – unexpected, but everyone loved it! The DAT set the stage for a collaboration filled with laughter, connection, and a whole lot of good vibes.”

After the DAT, Search participants attended a meet and greet on campus. A few weeks later, the group attended a rehearsal. Morgan Frost led the cast and our group in learning a few lines from a song in the show, interpreting it in ASL (American Sign Language). Later, the director and Tor Campbell invited us to participate in rehearsing with the cast for one of the scenes. Individuals shared that the rehearsal day was “incredible” and they “wished we could stay longer” with the cast.  

But wait! There’s more. Like any play, that was only act 1 of our collaboration. There is an act 2!  

Our collaboration continued after the production was up and running. Search’s very own Visibility Arts had a pop-up in the lobby before almost every performance. At the pop-up, artists sold their paintings, prints and products, earning nearly $500 in sales throughout the run of the show. We also had a very special raffle that was the brilliant idea of Emry Sottile, Doctoral Student, Interdisciplinary PhD in Theatre & Drama. Patrons purchased tickets for a chance to win one of “The Prom” costumes of their choice. The winner then worked with the costume designer to have that chosen costume fitted to their measurements. All profits supported Search, raising $265 towards our mission and programs!   

We then had a special “Search Inc. Day” at their final Saturday matinee performance so that  we could all enjoy the performance together. We were able to attend our Search Inc. Day by purchasing tickets through the support of the Ralla Klepak Foundation for Education in the Performing Arts. There was laughter, dancing in our seats and pure joy from all who attended!  

The gratitude and fondness we have for our partnership with Northwestern is much like that spot you like to sit to watch your favorite movie or the song you need to listen to again and again. It is both comforting and something you want to do on repeat.  

Tor further shared that, “reflecting on this partnership, our team could not be more grateful for this opportunity. This experience brought connection and a true sense of community to all involved.”

A special thanks to the Northwestern team: Pete Brace, Aziza Renee Macklin, Emry Sottile, Tor Campbell, the cast of The Prom and the entire Northwestern Team!  Thank you to the Search team: Melanie Ausbrook, Beth Ann Kimura, Grace Lipscomb, Gina Herzik and the Search DSPs who supported each event. I look forward to more opportunities in the future!   

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