Local recording studio helps people with special needs find their voices

28 Mar

Tucked in the basement of an unassuming Webster village home, there’s a recording studio. It’s a very professional operation which features two studio booths, a recording room, podcasting space and a classroom.

At-home recording studios are not that unusual. But this particular one has found a way to stand out from the crowd. Cassano Studio, owned and operated by Chad Cassano, specializes in teaching voice and acting workshops to an under-served population: children and adults with disabilities.

It’s a calling, Chad readily admits, that he never actually went looking for. Instead, it kind of found him.

Chad Cassano has been interested in acting from a young age. He performed with the Webster Theater Guild in middle school, and continued working on his craft through high school and college. After graduation, life led him in a different directions for a while, including getting married and having five children.

Several years ago, though, he found his way back to acting, and also started to learn about the very different skills and techniques involved in voice acting. Then, one day out of the blue, he got a phone call from some friends who hired him to teach an acting class.

After completing that class, Cassano’s friends suggested he put an ad in KidsOutandAbout.com. He did, and a mother reached out. Her son has autism, and she was looking for an acting studio that would work with children with disabilities. So far, every other one she’d contacted had turned her down.

“She was desperate,” Cassano remembered.

I was honest with her. I’m not a speech pathologist, I’m not a Hollywood actor. I’m just somebody who can maybe teach him a few techniques that I learned and maybe some concepts.

That’s exactly what happened. It was magic. Because of his autism, and because of his interest in this kind of thing, it just stuck. He was speaking better, his intonations were better, his inflection, his volume control. He was able to do things he’d never done before with his voice. And that started the whole thing.

From that single student about five years ago, Cassano’s client list now numbers 80. They range from 9 to 45 years old, and 95% of them present some kind of special need, including autism, Down syndrome and brain injury. He teaches them in small groups, individually and even remotely, conducting online classes with students as far away as New York City.

A typical class begins with vocal warm-ups, where Cassano leads his students through a variety of vocal slides, tongue twisters (“I saw a kitten eating chicken in the kitchen”) and “shout phrases,” especially emphasizing inflection and diction.

After warmups, each student gets a turn in the studio, where they record songs (guided by a karaoke-like teleprompter), dramatic readings or multiple-actor scripts. Each exercise, from the warmups through recording, is carefully adapted to the student’s ability level and objectives.

“Some kids just want to have an activity where they can express themselves, singing or yelling,” Cassano said. “Others have specific goals in voice or acting.” Those goals can be as diverse — or focused — as the population he works with.

That was especially the case with 13-year old Lorenzo, who had selective mutism. “He has autism,” Cassano remembered. Wouldn’t say a word. He would write everything down, just the same as he would do with his parents and his clinicians.” 

The goal? Just get Lorenzo to talk.

Cassano started with a rapid-fire, verbal/nonverbal word-for-word exchange with him. It took weeks, but finally he got Lorenzo to whisper the word “cat.” Eventually, he got Lorenzo to increase his volume to the point where he was fully speaking.

Cassano said, “That was the moment where I was like, ‘I don’t know what this is for, but clearly it has a purpose.'”

That calling to work with the special needs population had found him.

“I was not looking for working with kids with disabilities,” Cassano said. “I would have, but I just didn’t think about it. I was just going to teach acting classes, but once I found out that this had a therapeutic side to it, that this was helping kids be more confident and able to speak better than they’d ever spoken,” he knew he’d found his niche.

Cassano Studio became an acting workshop which concentrates on the voice for all people with all abilities.

“What I’m hoping will happen for each of my students is that they’ll find success in any of their acting endeavors, gain more confidence, and ultimately happiness in the way they communicate. … I realize not everybody is going to find a career in acting,  but whatever they decide to do, I hope their voice brings them joy.”

To learn more about Cassano Studio, check out the website here, or email ChadCassano@gmail.com.

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One Response to “Local recording studio helps people with special needs find their voices”

  1. Len Sakal March 30, 2022 at 9:04 am #

    Chad,
    U r a hero along with our beloved 1st responders and health care pros.
    UL

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