As you know, I’ve been part of the Board of Directors of Northern Starz Children’s Theatre for about a year and in that time, I’ve done some work as a stage manager, blog writer, director and volunteered for many other things. The latest of these endeavors includes an exceptional performance of “Annie, Jr.” The reason it’s amazing is that the cast consists of youngsters with special needs.
As part of a grant, Northern Starz is the first children’s theatre in Minnesota to embark on this journey. It’s called the Penguin Project. The special needs kids are called “Penguins.” Each special needs child has a mentor who is close to their own age. Together they’ve been spending the last several months, working on choreography and music. The past two weeks has introduced them to the space they’ll actually perform – the local community college.
For most performers, going through the process of learning music and dance for a show is a huge commitment. When I went to visit one evening, I was flabbergasted by the progress they’d made. Each element of putting a show together – music, choreography, blocking, getting familiar with their character, learning lines, brings a new challenge even for the seasoned actor. When you add set, lights, sound, costumes and makeup, it brings new challenges.
They have adapted to all of these changes beautifully, but the final magic occurs when they present to a live audience. Theatre can open doors to the imagination. It stimulates, excites, challenges, encourages creativity, self confidence, team building skills and future success. Why shouldn’t those with special needs have the same opportunity? With this program, that’s exactly what’s happening.
The best case scenario is that each seat in the theatre be filled. Stars shine most when the lights come up and they have a captive audience. I know the audience and the cast will not be disappointed. When the curtains open, the fun begins in earnest.
When the show comes to an end, everyone involved will have wonderful memories to hold in their hearts. The staff will see the fruits of their labor. For the mentors it will be a feeling of satisfaction from helping another person – being at their side for the long run and becoming friends. For the Penguins,it will have been an opportunity to soar like they’ve never done before – to be part of a group effort – creating moments that will last a lifetime.
We’re already looking ahead to next year and another production. The goal is to give all kids a chance to enjoy the theatre as they demonstrate what they can achieve.