‘The Hero Of My Imagination’ Event Celebrates Neurodiversity In The Arts

by Jennifer Sexton-Riley

“The Hero of my Imagination,” an event created by Chatham photographer, filmmaker and author Kim Roderiques to celebrate neurodiversity in the arts, will take place at the Chatham Orpheum Theater on Thursday, June 20 at 7 p.m.

The event will feature a panel of producers, writers and artistic directors. All proceeds from ticket sales will benefit Cape Abilities, whose mission is to support individuals with disabilities on Cape Cod by educating, counseling and providing residential, therapeutic, social and employment supports that empower individuals to achieve meaningful and valued roles in the community.

Roderiques explained that the event, which is sponsored by the Gardner family, is intended to celebrate the importance of arts in not only the neurodivergent world but the neurotypical world as well. She said the Gardner Family, longtime seasonal Chatham residents, have made a lasting and meaningful  impact on the myriad programs offered for individuals in the Cape Abilities community, and Cape Abilities is forever grateful for their support.

“Being able to express yourself through art is not just something you want to do, it’s something you have to do. It’s inside of you; it’s pure passion,” Roderiques said. “You can’t put it aside, it’s a part of you. It is something no one can take away from you. In the neurodivergent world, many times this is the only means of expression. It is crucial that we nurture, support, and encourage the creativity that lives inside people on the autism spectrum. It is their ability to communicate, many times the only way they can communicate. Every genre of the arts — painting, singing, playing a musical instrument, acting, etcetera — it is paramount to

expressing who you are.”

The nine panelists featured in “The Hero of my Imagination” will include event moderator Alan Rust, a longtime theater educator, actor and for decades the artistic director of Chatham’s Monomoy Theater; Ron Suskind, a Pulitzer-winning journalist, bestselling author, producer of award-winning documentaries and feature films and the founder of BongoMedia; Dani Davis, an Emmy award-winning writer, Tony-nominated Broadway producer, critically acclaimed theater director, television producer and entertainment entrepreneur; Nina Schuessler, an award-winning producer, director, teacher, actor and longtime producing artistic director of Cape Cod Theatre Company/Harwich Junior Theatre; Tedi Marsh, cofounder of Songbird Productions and co-producer of “How To Dance In Ohio;” Isabeau Miller, a professor at Berklee College of Music, cofounder of Songbird Productions and co-producer of “How To Dance In Ohio;” Nate Olin, a Cape Cod-based artist and award-winning art educator; Nick Heaney, a resident artist and cofounder of Artnova Gallery in Chatham; and award-winning Broadway star Jonathan Freeman, the voice of Jafar in “Aladdin” on screen and on Broadway.

Roderiques explained that she was inspired to create the event through her desire to help Cape Abilities, which she described as one of her favorite non-profits.

“I needed to find a presenting sponsor who was willing to underwrite this endeavor with all the money going to Cape Abilities,” Roderiques said. “The Gardner Family was so gracious in sponsoring ‘The Hero Of My Imagination.’ I am grateful.”

As she planned the event, Roderiques reached out to Tedi Marsh and Isabeau Miller, who produced a Broadway show “How To Dance In Ohio” based on a documentary with the same name.

“The entirety of the cast was on the spectrum,” Roderiques said. “This was groundbreaking. Historic. Nothing like this had ever happened before in Broadway history. They will be part of the panel and will show excerpts from this exceptional show that has received many accolades and award nominations.”

Suskind is a Pulitzer-winning journalist, bestselling author, and producer of award-winning documentaries and feature films, and the founder of BongoMedia. His book, “Life, Animated,” chronicles his family’s 20-year journey raising and connecting with their autistic son.

“The Suskinds are also the subject of an award-winning, Oscar-nominated documentary feature of the same name,” Roderiques said. “Their story has driven activism and research about the compensatory strengths of those with autism and others who are differently-abled due to distinctive neurology or sociocultural backgrounds.”

Nate Olin is an artist whose work has been exhibited in museums and galleries across the Cape and beyond. Olin is also an award-winning arts educator whose lasting impact on students of all neurotypes continues into his retirement as a private tutor out of his studio at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod.

Nicholas Heaney’s art consists of an ever-growing body of work directly inspired by the coastal landscape surrounding him. Using the process of heavy impasto to sculpt textures that break the two-dimensional plane of the traditional painting, Heaney achieves what some refer to as sculpture on canvas. As a neurodiverse artist with autism, ADHD and dyslexia, art has always been the most genuine way to connect with the world around him.

Two special guests at the event will be Liam Campbell and Matthew A. Newcombe.

“Liam is a brilliant artist, and he is on the spectrum,” Roderiques said. “Because of art, he excelled exponentially. Art gave him a focus. He developed his skills in illustration. Liam and his dad, Tommy Campbell, published a children’s book called ‘99 Cents Short.’ Matthew A. Newcombe is a phenomenal singer, and also on the spectrum. I first heard Matthew sing with the Cape Symphony at a special event at the Wychmere Harbor Club. I was in awe at his talent, composure and his clear passion for singing. He will be performing at this event at the Chatham Orpheum.”

Tickets for “The Hero of my Imagination” are now available for $25. For more information or to purchase tickets visit chathamorpheum.org.