Lawrence Kern ’01, Distinguished Humanitarian
- Carlos Barron
His dedication to the children he teaches inspires, not only his actors, but their parents as well. “This is a guy who is able to get to know our children, in some ways, better than we know them ourselves,” says one parent. “He believes in them, and he invests an unbelievable quantity of his life force, creative talents, time, and energy into helping them make something new and incredible.”
Lawrence began his work with young special needs actors by volunteering as a teaching artist for a teen drama troupe of six Down syndrome actors. The program quickly expanded to two classes a week accommodating an ensemble of 17 actors. Inspired by the rapid success of the program, Kern along with other teaching artists branched out and founded A.B.L.E. in 2014 to expand creative opportunities for the special needs community.
Since then, the group has performed an adaptation of Adventures in Wonderland and Twelfth Night as well as devised an original production entitled What You Will around the theme of identity. A.B.L.E.’s first independent feature film, The Curse of the Tempest Jewel, was written, directed, and co-produced by Kern for an ensemble cast of 17 actors with Down syndrome. The film was featured on “Your Chicago” on the CBS Evening News, in the Chicago Onscreen Local Showcase through Chicago Park District’s Movies in the Parks program, and received the Award of Merit from The Accolade Global Film Festival. His second film with A.B.L.E., The Spy Who Knew Me, features 20 ensemble actors with Down syndrome and premiered this fall in Chicago.
The best way to see the great impact Lawrence Kern is having is to watch one of his productions. Breanna Rollings ’02, who became friends with Kern while they were both attending Southwestern, says, “Last year, I had the opportunity to attend an A.B.L.E. performance at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. It was clear that he has created a tight-knit, beautiful community that is truly making a difference in the lives of young people.”
The creative gifts and talents that Lawrence shares with his special needs actors, have been honed over his fifteen year career on the stage and in film. After earning his BFA in theatre (and also a minor in English with an emphasis in Shakespeare) from Southwestern University, he attended The Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, where he obtained his MFA. Mr. Kern began acting on the stage, most notably performing at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, through the prestigious Shakespeare at Winedale program. A shift to film followed, as he earned roles in various television shows and both short and feature-length films.
Mr. Kern’s premiere training and real world experience are of great value to his students. One parents notes, “These performances reveal nuances of Shakespeare that you have never noticed. They reveal pathos, humor, tragedy, and wisdom that are different than any other kind of theater. The genius of A.B.L.E. is in the unflagging belief in the abilities and ideas of the actors, the relentless dedication to each show and each performance.”
The Southwestern University Alumni Association presented Lawrence Kern with the 2017 Distinguished Humanitarian Award for committing so much of his time and energy to making artistic expression available to people of all abilities. Mr. Kern’s important work has shown the world that those with special needs, also have special gifts.