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 Moana Jr. This thrilling and heartwarming coming-of-age story follows the strong-willed Moana as she sets sail across the Pacific to save her village and discover the truth about her heritage. Moana and the legendary demigod Maui embark on an epic journey of self-discovery and camaraderie as both learn to harness the power that lies within. With empowering messages of bravery and selflessness, Moana JR. is sure to bring out the hero within each of us.

Celebrating the rich history of Oceania and based on the beliefs and cultures of the people of the Pacific Islands, Moana was developed in collaboration with an Oceanic Trust – a group of anthropologists, cultural practitioners, historians, linguists, and choreographers from the Pacific Islands.

What are some important dates?

  • April 13 th Informational session
  • April 15 th Mentor informational session/training (11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.)
  • April 20 th Company meetings begin (every Thursday 4:15-5:45 thru 4/30)
  • May 2 nd Company meets every Thursday 4:15-5:45 and Saturdays 11:30-1:15 p.m. thru May
    25 th )
  • May 24 th – June 2 nd End of the year break
  • June 3 rd – June 29 th Company meets Tuesdays and Thursdays 4:15-5:45 p.m. (off 6/13, 6/15)
  • July 1 st -7 th Holiday break
  • July 8 th Company resumes Tuesdays and Thursdays 4:15-5:45 p.m. Saturdays 10:00 a.m. 12:15
    p.m. thru July 22 nd
  • July 24 th -28 th SHOW WEEK! Rehearsal every day 4:15-5:45 p.m.
  • July 29 th -30 th Performances at Lewis Auditorium at Flagler College (both days shows are at
    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.