Building Connections

From Austin Improv Community Wiki

Building Connections is a program of improv classes taught at The Hideout Theater for students with special needs, including at-risk youth and youth on the Autism Spectrum.


Many of the skills involved in improv (communication, self-expression, listening, co-creating ideas, spontaneity, flexibility, etc.) have a direct relation to many of the skills that at-risk youth and children/young adults on the autism spectrum need to develop. Many parents have reported a multitude of positive effects from their children's involvement in the program.

Building Connections Class Offerings

  • Fall and Spring 13 week series classes for teens and pre-teens on the Autism Spectrum (or youth with compatible needs)
  • Weekly improv classes for homeless youth and families in a downtown shelter at no cost
  • Periodic improv classes for foster youth in a residential treatment setting at significantly reduced or no cost
  • Improv classes for at-risk youth in rec centers and schools at significantly reduced or no cost

Classes for Youth on the Autism Spectrum

The Building Connections classes tailored to youth on the Autism Spectrum are split into two age groups and features, in addition to Lead Teacher Lacy Shawn, a large number of co-teachers from all across the AIC. At the end of each semester, the students of each class put on a showcase for friends and family, and anyone else interested in being a part of the audience.


The following improvisers have all served as co-teachers for the program.

Classes for Homeless Youth

The Building Connections classes for homeless youth were originally taught by Lacy Shawn and Bridget Brewer. When Bridget moved to Providence, RI for graduate school, Luke Wallens replaced Bridget.


The following improvisers have all served as co-teachers for the program.


After a meeting with local AIC improvisers Luke Wallens, Sam Schak, Chris Albano, and Bridget Brewer, the Special Needs Improv Program (later dubbed Building Connections) was created by Social Worker and improviser Lacy Shawn and The Hideout Theater's Children's Programs Coordinator, Jessica Arjet.

The first classes were offered in 2013, and were six weeks in length. Classes catered to pre-teens and teens on the Autism Spectrum.

In June 2014, a handful of students from the Building Connections program took part in hour 17 of the The 46-Hour Improv Marathon. In the 9AM Saturday morning slot, the kids provided the marathoners with a much needed pick me up and bundles of positive energy. The show was very successful.

Research and Spreading the Program

Lacy Shawn has begun work on researching the efficacy of the program.

In the Summer of 2015 she traveled to Indiana to share instruction on the teaching of improv to at-risk youth and youth on the Autism Spectrum.

More Information