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Q&A with Joaquin Escalante of Best Buddies International

Fort Worth Opera is thrilled to partner with the Dallas chapter of Best Buddies International this summer for a YouTube Watch Party of Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World & a live talkback!

On July 1, 2020, Fort Worth Opera is excited to host a YouTube Watch Party of our 35-minute, family-friendly opera, Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World, for the Texas Chapter of Best Buddies International. Based upon the highly-acclaimed book by award-winning English author and illustrator Laurence Anholt, this charming new work by composer Joe Illick and Pulitzer Prize-winning librettist Mark Campbell, follows the real-life story of Marianna Morillo Safa and her friendship with famed painter Frida Kahlo.

Before the watch party, there will be a brief live pre-show video, followed by a 30-minute live talkback with Sheran Keyton, FWO Manager of Education, and guests. Fort Worth Opera will be providing activity packets for Best Buddies International, with over 30 activities geared toward children with various learning styles.

We recently spoke with Joaquin Escalante, Program Manager & Community Engagement for Best Buddies International in Dallas about the organization and the impact of the arts on children with IDD and their families here in North Texas.

Best Buddies International Texas

Q&A with Joaquin Escalante

by Ryan Lathan & Sheran Goodspeed Keyton

Ryan Scott Lathan: Can you tell our readers more about Best Buddies, who the organization serves, and how your programs are making a difference in the lives of families across North Texas?

Joaquin Escalante: Best Buddies in an international organization which creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development, and inclusive living for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Our Friendship Program creates chapters in schools from Elementary to adults in college to help create and strengthen the social skills that our buddies, participants with IDD, may need help with. Our Jobs program helps continue the support to our buddies by assisting them in finding employment and providing on-going support throughout their employment. Our Ambassador Program provides leadership trainings and opportunities to take larger roles in our events like giving a speech, or speaking of their experience in Best Buddies if accompanying staff at a community event.

RSL: There are chapters throughout the United States, from Colorado to New Jersey, that have either collaborated with musical therapists or developed Zoom musicals, like BLOOM: The Musical, this year in Princeton. Has the Dallas chapter ever partnered with a local arts or musical organization in providing artistic and educational activities for children with IDD?

JE: The Dallas Symphony Orchestra annually puts on a concert that caters to children and adults that have autism or another intellectual and developmental disability. The DSO reaches out to organizations like Best Buddies, who work with this population, to invite their participants as well as set up an informational booth to provide information on the resources to help those with IDD. The event not only provides a performance, but has hosted a musical therapy session before the show, and an instrument petting zoo afterwards so that those with IDD can see how music can still be accessible to them.

Sheran Goodspeed Keyton: One of the sentiments regularly expressed by families that we serve is the inability to truly enjoy family outings, such as live entertainment events. How does the work you do at Best Buddies contribute to families better being able to enjoy these types of events? Do you see a benefit in companies like Fort Worth Opera offering events specifically catered to these families?

JE: Referencing the DSO concert from earlier, organizations like ours can bring awareness of opportunities like the concert to families that may otherwise not have known that these events were happening in their community. This in turn can bring more awareness to not only the arts, but also their benefit on the social and cognitive development of an individual with IDD. I would see a great benefit in Fort Worth Opera providing these events to families with IDD in either an in person or virtual setting.

(Left to Right) Mariana (Soprano Robin Steitz) sits for a portrait with the great Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (Mezzo-Soprano Kayla Nanto) in Fort Worth Opera's Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World. Photo by Timothy Walker Jr.
Mariana (Robin Steitz) sits for a portrait with Frida Kahlo (Kayla Nanto) in Fort Worth Opera's 'Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World.' Photo by Timothy Walker Jr.

About Best Buddies International:


Best Buddies International is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development, and inclusive living for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

Who We Serve

The IDD community that Best Buddies serves includes, but is not limited to, people with Down syndrome, autism, Fragile X, Williams syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and other undiagnosed disabilities.


Best Buddies is the world’s largest organization dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation of the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Our programs empower the special abilities of people with IDD by helping them form meaningful friendships with their peers, secure successful jobs, live independently, improve public speaking, self-advocacy and communication skills, and feel valued by society.


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