What is the Penguin Project?
Every year, groups of young artists across the country take to the stage to perform a modified version of a well-known Broadway musical. These productions are unique—all of the roles are filled by young artists with developmental disabilities including Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, visual impairment, hearing impairment, and other neurological disorders.
These young actors are joined on stage by a dedicated group of “peer mentors,” children the same age without disabilities who have volunteered to work side-by-side through four months of rehearsals and through the final performance. By providing access to theater, The Penguin Project demonstrates that the special challenges of a disability should not handicap a child’s ability to participate in life’s experiences.
“Last year, we embarked on this journey with a group of ten young artists with disabilities, ten mentors, and a teaching staff of four. It was a transformative experience for everyone involved,” remarks Ian Mairs, Managing Director of Apex Theatre Studio. “Ultimately, what our artists, mentors, teachers, and families came to understand was how as a group, we are more alike than different,” adds Mairs.
What is the project timeline?
We start with informational sessions for potential artists, mentors, and family members in February/March. It’s a very casual open house situation of sorts, filled with name tags, games, snacks, and hugs.
By April, our company begins working together on music and choreography of our larger production numbers. This allows artists to get to know one another and spend time finding the right combination of artists and mentors. We keep enrollment open throughout the month for anyone who is interested in joining.
We cast our show after four weeks of rehearsals. By now, there is a wonderful vibe emanating from these weekly meetings. Families are welcome to attend any and all rehearsals. Frequently, siblings are drafted into the ensemble or to work behind the scenes.
We take short break from the end of June through 4 th of July weekend to provide the company with a bit of a break. Once they return in July, our cast meets more frequently as we begin to add more elements of performance: costume fitting, prop building, etc.
There is a palpable excitement in the air when the week for performances arrives and the company moves into Lewis Auditorium. Performances render a joyous blend of excitement, nerves, and the satisfaction which comes from hours of hard work.
What show are you doing this year?
This year our show Penguin Project show is Shrek Jr.
Beauty is in the eye of the ogre in Shrek The Musical JR., based on the Oscar-winning DreamWorks Animation film and fantastic Broadway musical. It’s a “big bright beautiful world” as everyone’s favorite ogre, Shrek, leads a cast of fairytale misfits on an adventure to rescue a princess and find true acceptance. Part romance and part twisted fairy tale, Shrek JR. is an irreverently fun show with a powerful message for the whole family.
Once upon a time, in a far away swamp, there lived an ogre named Shrek. One day, Shrek finds his swamp invaded by banished fairytale misfits who have been cast off by Lord Farquaad, a tiny terror with big ambitions. When Shrek sets off with a wisecracking donkey to confront Farquaad, he’s handed a task — if he rescues feisty princess Fiona, his swamp will be righted. Shrek tries to win Fiona’s love and vanquish Lord Farquaad, but a fairytale wouldn’t be complete without a few twists and turns along the way.
What are some important dates?
Tuesday, March 19th Mentor informational session 6:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m.
Tuesday, March 26th Informational session for Penguin artists and families
4:15 p.m.-5:45 p.m.
Thursday, March 28th Mentor training session 4:15 p.m.-6:00 p.m.
Saturday, March 30th 9:30 a.m.-11:15 p.m. First full company rehearsal at GOCA
Rehearsals for April 2nd-May 23rd Thursdays 4:15 p.m.-5:45 p.m at Apex
Saturdays 9:30 a.m.-11:15 p.m. at GOCA
May 24th-31st End of school year break
June 4th-June 29th Tuesday 4:15-6:00 (Principals only)
Thursdays 4:15-6:00 p.m. (Everyone)
Saturdays, 9:30-11:15 (Everyone)
July 1st-July 7th Summer holiday week! (No rehearsal)
July 8th -20th Tuesdays 4:15-6:00 (Principals only) at Apex
Thursdays 4:15 p.m.-5:45 p.m at GOCA
Saturdays 9:30 a.m.-11:15 p.m. at GOCA
July 23rd-July 25th Run thrus at GOCA 4:15 p.m.-6:00 p.m.
July 26th Dress rehearsal/tech at Lewis Auditorium 3:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m.
July 27th-July 28th Performances at Lewis Auditorium (Actors backstage 1:00 p.m.)
Curtain 2:00 p.m.
Who can participate?
Any student with developmental disabilities including Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, visual impairment, hearing impairment, and other neurological disorders from ages 7- 23.
What is the cost?
There is no cost involved. Thank to our community partners, Apex families, and donor we are able to cover the cost of the experience. Tickets to the performance are $20.
Do I need to provide a costume for my artists?
We have costumes for this show. The only things we need from student performers are very basic items which can be found in their closets as home such as jean, shorts, t-shirts, and sneakers.
What if we plan to take a vacation this summer?
As long as the student can attend the majority of rehearsals and is present for production week (July 24 th -30 th ), we can work around family vacations and trips. We even had a few Penguins join us via Zoom last year while they were on vacation. We provide staging videos which they can review at their leisure.
Where can I register for sessions?
You can register for our informational sessions here: https://www.hisawyer.com/apex-theatre- studio/schedules/activity-set/451451
Who can be a mentor?
Any student aged 8-23 can attend the mentor informational session and training. For the first few weeks, we create pairs of students working together at meetings to see well they work together. At the end of May, we establish dedicated mentors for each artists as well as a team who work as backup mentors.
Working as mentor requires committing to the schedule as your artist will come to depend on your assistance. If you are planning on taking a vacation longer than ten days in row this summer, it might be best to work as a backup mentor or backstage volunteer.
Can siblings work as mentors?
Yes, as long as they serve as mentors for someone other than their family member.