Thursday, August 4, 2016




WHEN: August 10 at 7 p.m. It will last approximately one hour.
Raritan Valley Community College’s Welpe Theatre. 118 Lamington Rd., Branchburg
ADMISSION: free of charge and open to the public
For additional information about the performance of Writing Workshop, contact the Visual and Performing Arts Department, 908-218-8876.

For six Raritan Valley Community College students who signed up for a Theatre Production class this summer, the experience is one they may never forget. The RVCC students have been joined in the class by three adults with disabilities from the Matheny Medical and Educational Center in Peapack, rehearsing and learning together weekly at the College’s Branchburg Campus. (Above: RVCC Theatre major Stephanie Maehr, left, rehearses with Matheny artist Natalia Manning during the College’s Theatre Production class.)

RVCC_Matheny Arts Access_Photo 3The Matheny actors are participating as part of Matheny’s Arts Access Program, a multidisciplinary fine arts program serving people with disabilities. After several weeks of working together, the students’ efforts will be showcased in a theatre performance featuring original work and dance, as well as Writing Workshop, written and directed by RVCC Associate Professor of Theatre Dennis Russo. (Right: Theatre major Jhaliyl Stewart, left, rehearses with Matheny artist Cheryl Chapin.)

“We wanted to offer a different kind of performance opportunity for all of the students, creating an inclusive piece of theatre where the Matheny actors are working with the RVCC students on one, ensemble-based play,” says Russo. “The Matheny students will be carrying the action, but they will be supported by the RVCC student actors.”

According to Russo, the Matheny artists’ participation in the RVCC class was initiated when the Center’s staff reached out to the College’s administration last fall in hopes of creating more community-based programs for their clients. The College’s weekly summer Theatre Production class seemed like the perfect opportunity, explains Russo. As a result, this summer three Matheny adults—Cheryl Chapin of Basking Ridge, Natalia Manning of Hillsborough and Chet Cheesman of Franklin—have been rehearsing alongside RVCC Theatre majors Aliyah Arceno and Stephanie Maehr, both of Bridgewater; Vanessa Viscomi of Hillsborough; Natalee Mira of Whitehouse Station; Jhaliyl Stewart of New Brunswick; and Chris Esmerado of Bernards Township.

For the Matheny actors, the class experience fulfills another dream: attending college. By enrolling in the class, “Natalia, Cheryl and Chet are registered students of RVCC. This is a major source of pride for them,” notes Keith Garletts, Arts Access outreach coordinator/program specialist. “Chet has wanted to attend RVCC for about 10 years, so this is very important and exciting for him. Going to college is a given for most people these days—but that’s not the case for a large percentage of people with disabilities. I believe that it is our responsibility to respect and care for the most vulnerable of our citizens, and that includes providing them with the tools to live out a meaningful and productive life. Education is the cornerstone for that fulfillment.” 

“None of the Theatre majors had worked with actors like Chet, Cheryl and Natalia before,” says Russo, head of the College’s Theatre program and chair of the Visual and Performing Arts Department. “So not only are the RVCC students interacting with the Matheny actors, they’re also creating a piece of art with them. And since it’s theatre, which is a collaborative art, they’re working with each other person-to-person. For the students, it’s been an immersion into a process with people they don’t cross paths with every day. So they’re learning on a more profound level than in a typical class.”

Adds Garletts, “The RVCC Theatre majors will probably start off thinking, ‘We’re doing something good for these people.’ But they may come out of the class feeling: ‘Wow, they did something really good for me.’ I have a very strong suspicion that no matter what these RVCC students are doing 20 years from now, they will remember this Theatre Production course.”

About Arts Access
Matheny’s Arts Access program empowers individuals with disabilities to create art without boundaries. Through the use of innovative systems and techniques, participants can take part in the visual, performing and literary arts. Regardless of their disability, clients are provided with the tools and materials needed to produce complete pieces of work. While freedom of choice is often limited in other areas of their lives, it is encouraged at Arts Access. Clients choose everything from the paint color and brush stroke to a dance or theatrical movement to the written word. The program makes this possible by bringing participants together with professional artist facilitators. The facilitators are working professionals in their area of expertise who have been trained to be the arms and legs of the disabled clients. They consciously maintain a sense of neutrality throughout the creative process. The facilitators provide a process for the client artists to create works that are purely their own.

Arts Access provides clients with a nurturing environment for expression; a chance to interact with other artists; and an opportunity for performance and exhibition. The Arts Access program is a vehicle through which disabled individuals can have their ideas, imagination and creativity come to life.

About RVCC
Raritan Valley Community College’s main campus is located at 118 Lamington Road in Branchburg, NJ. Serving Somerset and Hunterdon County residents for close to 50 years, RVCC is an educational and cultural center that is nationally recognized for its innovative programming, service to the community and environmental leadership. The College offers more than 90 associate degrees and certificates, as well as career training, professional development and personal enrichment courses. The College also has a performing arts center and planetarium.

RVCC is committed to offering a quality and affordable education through effective teaching, liaisons with the community’s businesses and state-of-the-art technology. For further information, visit

Photos by Keith Garletts