SAY: The Stuttering Association for the Young

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Kelli O’Hara Concert for SAY at Irvington Theater

Tony-Award Win­ning Icon Kelli O’Hara To Per­form at Irv­ing­ton The­ater Jan­u­ary 16

Noah Corn­man is bring­ing it all back home. The 1992 Irv­ing­ton High School grad­u­ate, who joy­fully re­mem­bers “grow­ing up on the stage of the Irv­ing­ton Town Hall The­ater,” re­turned in 2016 with his wife, Kerry, to raise their two chil­dren in the vil­lage that in­spired his life­long love of the­ater.

It runs in the fam­ily. Corn­man’s sis­ter, Mad­die, is an ac­tress and play­wright. Their fa­ther, Michael, was chair of the Irv­ing­ton The­ater Com­mis­sion for many years. The Town Hall el­e­va­tor was ded­i­cated in mem­ory and honor of Noah and Mad­die’s mother, Irene (who passed away in 1986), for her ef­forts to make the the­ater ac­ces­si­ble to all; an unas­sum­ing yet om­nipresent plaque bear­ing her name ac­com­pa­nies stu­dents, per­form­ers, and vis­i­tors rid­ing up to the the­ater each day.

Pro­fes­sion­ally, Irene worked with spe­cial needs chil­dren, which left an in­deli­ble im­pres­sion on Noah. She also sang and played gui­tar. The the­ater “spoke to me,” re­called Noah; “it was a place where you could de­velop con­fi­dence and friend­ships, find com­mu­nity, and be free to ex­plore.”

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Co­lum­bia, he pur­sued a ca­reer in mu­sic – help­ing build Grammy award-win­ning record la­bel Ghost­light Records (pro­duc­ing solo and Broad­way cast record­ings), with the goal of pre­serv­ing tra­di­tional mu­si­cal the­ater.

But it was a vol­un­teer en­deavor along the way that bridged Noah’s child­hood mem­o­ries of his mom and the stage with a ca­reer that il­lus­trates the power of the­ater. In 2001, Noah was in­tro­duced to SAY (The Stut­ter­ing As­so­ci­a­tion for the Young) through his friend Taro Alexan­der, a pro­fes­sional ac­tor who founded the non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion. “I did­n’t know he stut­tered,” re­called Noah.

“For much of my life,” Taro ex­plained on SAY’s web­site (www.say.org), “from the mo­ment I woke up un­til the mo­ment I fell asleep, my num­ber one goal was to hide the fact that I stut­tered.” De­ter­mined to help oth­ers avoid the pain he had ex­pe­ri­enced, Taro cre­ated a the­ater com­pany for young peo­ple who stut­ter. “Every day, kids who stut­ter shut down… How many young peo­ple are keep­ing their heads down or not mak­ing friends be­cause they are ter­ri­fied of be­ing laughed at, ridiculed, or bul­lied for the way they speak?”

1% of the pop­u­la­tion (70 mil­lion peo­ple) stut­ters, in­clud­ing about 5% of all chil­dren. Many grow out of it. But for those that don’t, the em­bar­rass­ment can be ex­cru­ci­at­ing. While a mis­con­cep­tion ex­ists that stut­ter­ing re­sults from ner­vous­ness and can be con­trolled, it of­ten comes from a ge­netic com­po­nent built into the brain. Stut­ter­ing can­not be “cured” like an ill­ness, and there is no known med­ica­tion to treat it.

The arts al­low chil­dren to ex­pe­ri­ence ac­cep­tance and con­fi­dence in an en­vi­ron­ment where they can ex­press what they want to say in the way they want to say it. Cap­ti­vated by that sen­ti­ment, Noah vol­un­teered with SAY from 2001 to 2011, as a teach­ing artist and camp coun­selor, later serv­ing on the Ben­e­fit Com­mit­tee and Ad­vi­sory Board. Then, in 2012, he em­braced the role of Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor. “Want­ing to be heard is so vi­tal,” he ex­plained. “The over­ar­ch­ing phi­los­o­phy of SAY is that every voice mat­ters and is beau­ti­ful ex­actly the way it is.”

On Thurs­day, Jan­u­ary 16th at 7:30 p.m., Noah will share SAY’s mis­sion on the stage that fos­tered his love of ex­pres­sion with a ben­e­fit con­cert fea­tur­ing his dear friend, Tony Award-win­ning ac­tress Kelli O’Hara. “Kelli is im­mensely tal­ented,” said Noah, “and it means the ab­solute world to me that she is per­form­ing at the Irv­ing­ton The­ater.”

Like Noah, Kelli fell in love with SAY’s mes­sage, head­lin­ing an in­spir­ing, sold-out fundraiser at the Irv­ing­ton The­ater in 2017. “Kelli is down-to-earth gen­uine,” Noah noted, “a world-class liv­ing leg­end” who is equally at home per­form­ing liv­ing room con­certs, on and off Broad­way, in films, on tele­vi­sion, and with the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera. She will be ac­com­pa­nied by pi­anist Dan Lip­ton, and joined by spe­cial guests and SAY alumni. (Visit www.irv­ing­tonthe­ater.com for tick­ets.)

Funds raised sup­port a wide range of speech ther­apy re­sources, Camp SAY, and SAY’s Con­fi­dent Voices week­end pro­gram (where par­tic­i­pants work in small groups to cre­ate orig­i­nal songs and plays). Based in NYC, pro­fes­sional teach­ing artists lead the week­end work­shops, help­ing peo­ple who stut­ter de­velop es­sen­tial com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills to fully ex­press their thoughts, ideas, and dreams.

Sleep-away Camp SAY, in the Pocono Moun­tains (for ages 8-18), of­fers kids a chance to en­joy child­hood (and camp) with­out wor­ry­ing about their stut­ter­ing. Ac­tiv­i­ties are de­signed to meet in­di­vid­ual goals and needs; speech ther­apy is also avail­able.

“Last sum­mer, we wel­comed 162 campers – from every­where,” Noah said. Fundrais­ing un­der­writes fi­nan­cial aid, which is needed by about 85% of fam­i­lies. No child is ever turned away. “We never let money be the rea­son for any­one to miss out on SAY pro­grams.”

New ini­tia­tives in­clude SAY Sto­ry­tellers for teens, and SAY DC – a year-round pro­gram based in founder Taro’s home­town.

“We’re cel­e­brat­ing young peo­ple for ex­actly who they are,” ex­plained Noah. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is key, but lis­ten­ing is just as im­por­tant. “Kelli has recorded songs that SAY kids have writ­ten. The im­pact is real. Through art and per­for­mance, they see they are not alone,” and, in fact, ca­pa­ble of “ex­cep­tional things.”

Peo­ple who stut­ter not only ex­pe­ri­ence great suc­cess; they achieve suc­cess with their voices (such as James Earl Jones, Carly Si­mon, and Bill With­ers – whose wife is a SAY board mem­ber). “It’s not about fix­ing,” said Noah. “We meet them where they are – one young per­son at a time.”

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