Mentor Spotlight: Meet Lia Winnard

Lia Winnard is one of the fabulous mentors in ArtStream’s theatre companies. She is a nationally certified therapeutic recreation specialist and has participated in many adaptive sports and recreation opportunities for people with disabilities from a young age, including high school theatre productions. One of her performance highlights was as the narrator in a production of Pericles at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre. She is an avid para swimmer and has raced in national Paralympic open swim events. Lia also learned how to ski, horseback ride and kayak through adaptive sports programs and co-founded an adaptive sports and recreation organization, Pursuit Adaptive Sports and Recreation, to share similar opportunities with others with physical disabilities in the area. Lia graduated with a degree in recreation therapy from George Mason University and holds an advanced graduate certificate in disability studies from the City University of New York. She is passionate about opportunities for therapeutic recreation, including theatre and adaptive sports for people with disabilities, and is eager to share that enthusiasm and community with ArtStream.   

We chatted with Lia to learn more about her experience as a mentor at ArtStream.

ArtStream: Tell us about yourself. What is your background, and how did you get involved with ArtStream? 

Lia: My background may be a bit different from many others in ArtStream, allowing us to complement each other well. I work as and am a Certified Recreation Specialist (CTRS) and as such, have worked in many different environments and with many different demographics. I also have a graduate background in disability studies.

I first heard about ArtStream several years ago while I was working with ServiceSource as a Community Integration Specialist. ServiceSource’s website advertised that they were partnering with ArtStream to host a theatre class. It really piqued my interest, but, at the time, the activity wasn’t appropriate for the population I was working with, so I bookmarked ArtStream in my mind for later reference down the road.

As I was looking for some creative endeavors to get involved with, I remembered ArtStream and found out that they were looking for mentors. It just so happened that ArtStream was holding their Virginia cabaret that week, and I went to see it and fell in love. It seemed to be the perfect mix of my interest in working in therapeutic recreation with diverse populations and my love of the creative arts and theatre.

ArtStream: How did you first get involved in theatre?

Lia: I first got involved in theatre in middle school, mostly because I thought theatre would help me open up because I was very quiet and shy. I loved it and stayed with it through high school. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to be involved with theatre in college, but I missed it.

ArtStream: Why did you decide to become a mentor?

Lia: After high school, I took a break from theatre. I was still an avid theatergoer and attended various shows, but I was not participating in any productions. I honestly thought I wouldn’t miss any of the experiences that being in theatre provides, but I did miss it a lot. I recently had been looking at how to get involved in theatre again since I had never participated in any community theatre programs, and I found a mentoring opportunity at ArtStream, and here I am and really loving being involved.

ArtStream: What is something the ArtStreamers would be surprised to find out about you? 

Lia: ArtStreamers might be surprised to know that I have a lived experience with disability, that is, cerebral palsy. My experiences with my disability brought me into the field of Therapeutic Recreation (TR), which covers a wide range of activities from performing arts to visual arts, sports, and everywhere in between. A few years ago, I co-founded an area adaptive sports nonprofit, Pursuit Adaptive Sports and Recreation, because there is such a lack of opportunities for adaptive sports and recreation activities for disabled adults. Pursuit partners with other organizations to offer adaptive sports activities such as adaptive cycling and sailing, indoor rock climbing, rafting, skiing, and lots more. We are primarily focused right now on physically disabled adults but hope to expand our population to adults with intellectual disabilities in the future.

ArtStream: What do you feel is most important to share/offer your students? 

Lia: Everyone, including the staff, get involved with ArtStream to learn and grow, to exercise their creative muscles, and have fun. Everyone is unique and has something unique to offer. Many experienced ArtStream actors know each other well from previous classes and productions, but in order to grow, we continually have to learn and try new things, make new friends and help them become comfortable, in any way we can, in their new environment.

ArtStream: What advice would you offer to someone who is nervous to perform on stage?

Lia: Whether onstage or in class during different activities, there is no right or wrong way to perform. There will always be a staff person to help and guide you if you want and need it. Remember that the audience doesn’t know the script, so if you forget your lines, you can say something random, and a mentor will help steer the scene back on target. You’ll end up in the same place after a scene or play – everyone will be on the way to having a good time.

ArtStream: Please share an example of something that happened at ArtStream that really inspired you. 

Lia: I am fairly new, but just seeing the more experienced students be so in their element gives me such joy that they found theatre and have such a wonderful creative outlet. The most motivating and teachable moments for me are when a staff person gives a quiet, new student one-on-one time, and they come out of their shell, even if it’s just for a few moments. Each staff person has different approaches and makes impact on our students’ progression.

ArtStream: What kinds of changes have you seen ArtStream students make in classes and rehearsals?

Lia: The changes are often very small and sometimes hard to notice, but when I see students actively participate more and more each week, I know it means they’re becoming more comfortable in the environment and with other people. It may be small, but it’s significant.

ArtStream: What are you looking forward to most this fall?

Lia: I have never been a part of creating a play from the ground up, so that is definitely exciting to play and experiment with all the components. I continue to look forward to the evolution and growth.

ArtStream, the organization and the staff, are honestly one of the best teams I’ve ever worked with, they are so encouraging, supportive, and creative, and I feel fortunate to be a part of such a special team and continue to grow with them.

ArtStream: What is your favorite play or musical? 

Lia: Even though I’m musically challenged, I absolutely love musicals! Two musicals that are absolutely spectacular to see live are Wicked and Six. The set of Wicked was breathtaking, and I couldn’t stop dancing to the music from Six for a few weeks!

ArtStream: If you could create a new play or musical about anything, what would it be?

Lia: This is a tough one, it’s hard to decide. I am fascinated by our theme this year: time-travelling mystery. What I yearn to see in any media is a positive portrayal of disability, in any form and genre. I would love to tell a story about disability and creativity and growth, such as the documentary Crip Camp.