Erica Berman’s Passion Opens Doors

By Sarah Knab

Working at the intersection of live performance, arts education and inclusivity at Children’s Theater of Madison, director of education and community engagement Erica Berman helps to ensure both families and organizations alike can experience the talent, passion, and cultural differences within the local arts scene.

After receiving her bachelor’s of arts in theater from Mount Holyoke, an all-women’s college in Massachusetts, she pursued a master’s in theater education at Emerson College, where Berman student-taught in special needs classrooms. “This began my lifelong passion to serve communities that don’t often feel they belong in certain spaces—like students on the autism spectrum—to encourage their curiosity to explore at every stage as they grow and develop,” she reflects.

Later as part of the team that introduced sensory-friendly performances at the Tonywinning McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, New Jersey, Berman was eager to relocate to Madison and assume a similar role.  During her tenure at Children’s Theater of Madison, she has redefined what some families think they can do together—such as being able to enjoy musicals and plays—in a welcoming atmosphere by launching CTM’s initiatives for expanded accessibility. Berman collaborated with directors to remove flashing lights and loud noises, educated actors to prepare them for diverse audiences and provided families with preparatory resources for both inside and outside the theater.

Her diligent efforts continue to inspire other organizations like Overture Center, where CTM is a resident company, to provide an appealing theatrical environment for all families. Berman says, “It’s about the students having a place, regardless of race, gender, finances or certain physical and cognitive abilities. CTM planted the seed and we hope to see growth throughout our community and beyond.”

Another sphere she manages is the nonprofit’s extensive off-season acting program Summer Stage and coordinating free theater programs at the Goodman Center and, beginning this fall, at the Lussier Community Education Center too. She also recently directed her first CTM production “A Year with Frog and Toad,” with a second on tap this October as the director of “Madagascar.”

And she’s added playwright to her resume after writing the full-length play “No Wake,” which is set for a public reading Sept. 23 during the Wisconsin Wrights New Play Festival.

“As an arts educator, I think it’s important to feed yourself artistically. It reminds you what it’s like to feel vulnerable and try something new for the first time. Being vulnerable as an artist helps me to identify and connect with the young people I serve,” she explains. “I’m privileged to be a part of an organization making strides to diversify and serve Madison’s families by changing their  children’s lives.”

This story is part of our “Inspiration Takes Stage” article. Click to read about the other two featured artists – Rachelle Butler and Melanie Cain.

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