When I was seven years old, I was tackling how to use a sippy cup (still working on it, just kidding). When Gorman J. Ruggiero was seven years old, he was producing his own shows, after receiving a twenty-five cent miniature circus kit.
Years later, after graduating from the Actors Conservatory Program at SUNY Purchase, Gorman began producing shows in Philadelphia, and then in Saratoga Springs. There, he started teaching acting at an elementary school. He soon realized that the children with whom he was working lacked the basic communication skills needed to learn any form of basic acting.
“I’ve taken the process . . . and divided it into fundamental elements,” he said. The children are taught how to master each element, ranging from eye contact, to identifying physical and emotional cues, to nonverbal interaction.
After the jump, find out how his methods led to his 2011 Philly Fringe production.
As his methods became more popular, and more students successfully developed their communication abilities, Gorman began working with those widely called “problem children.” He discovered that during his classes, at least, such students did not behave differently than others. Thirty years later, as diagnoses of autism and Asperger’s syndrome became more common, more and more children living with such conditions were sent to Gorman—-he had unknowingly been working with autistic children for years.
With his methods well established, and his success rate high, Gorman founded The World Theatre of Children, a training program that uses theater as a vehicle to teach children communication skills. Gorman not only teaches every class; he also writes and directs every play put on by the program.
Three years ago, Gorman founded G.J. Ruggiero Productions, a professional level theatre company that includes a number of World Theatre graduates. Ruggiero made it clear, however, that within World Theatre, he is “not training children to become professional actors [but] training them to become professional communicators.”
This September, at the Philly Fringe, G.J.R. Productions will put on the comedy The Servant of Two Masters, by Carlo Goldoni. Based on the commedia dell’ Arte form, the show celebrates physical comedy. Ruggiero will be playing the servant, Truffaldino, based on the commedia stock character, Harlequin.
But his life’s work is no joke. He continues his work with autistic children; in a study at the Delaware Valley Children’s Center and the Philadelphia Mental Health Center, Ruggiero helped to prove that, by studying his communication methods, autistic children are able to improve a series of skills sets by 25 to 60 percent. And he believes strongly in the confidence and communication skills students in World Theatre of Children receive—anybody who’s completed the program can join G.J.R. Productions, including at least one performer you’ll see at his 2011 Philly Fringe show.