STAGES St. Louis Receives $120,000 Grant

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STAGES St. Louis Receives $120,000 Grant

STAGES St. Louis in conjunction with Centene Charitable Foundation has announced a $120,000 grant over the next three years to support the Centene Inclusion Project, a program that pairs typically developing high school theatre students with students with special needs to jointly perform a musical revue of Broadway hits for family, friends, and fellow students.

"This generous life changing grant from Centene will allow for the expansion and enrichment of this truly unique program offered through the growing outreach efforts of STAGES Performing Arts Academy," stated Jack Lane, Executive Producer, of STAGES St. Louis.

After garnering a reputation for providing quality Musical Theatre instruction for both typically developing students and students with special needs, STAGES Performing Arts Academy first partnered with the Wentzville School District and the Special School District at Holt High School in 2010 to create this inclusive program. The course has been successfully conducted for the past four years at Holt High School in Wentzville and for one year at Fort Zumwalt North High School.

The Centene Inclusion Project is part of STAGES' regionally unique Access the Arts program that was introduced in the summer of 2005 in response to parents concerned about the limited opportunities for instruction and participation in the performing arts available to their children with special needs. Access the Arts now serves more than 450 students annually. The only program of its kind in the St. Louis area, Access the Arts enables children with physical, cognitive, and developmental challenges, including Down syndrome, visual impairments, and autism, to participate fully in the performing arts.

The overarching goal of the STAGES Access the Arts program is to provide performing arts opportunities for students with special needs while also enabling them to publicly demonstrate their skills, thereby dismantling barriers for people with disabilities. The Centene Inclusion Project goes one step further, by beginning that dismantling process.

"This program creates new friendships and a sense of camaraderie that might never have been realized-due to the diversity of the students involved-without such a program," STAGES Teaching Artist Brent Hunsinger explains.

Hunsinger shares that a key part of the program is building trust between the two groups of students, and convincing everyone that the rehearsals are a safe and open time where everyone works together toward one common goal: the performance. "I am always amazed at the devotion of the students and their commitment to each other in creating art together," Hunsinger said.

Theatre student Luke Davis participated in the project in the spring of 2013 at Fort Zumwalt North. He shared that even though he had been in the same school building with most of the students with special needs for years, he had never met any of them, and he did not even know their names. "Now I know all of them," Davis said.

Like Davis, many typically developing students report profound personal impact, while students with special needs report a desire to participate in the program again. Most importantly, this program brings together students who would otherwise not interact, creating friendships between the two groups.

For individual students interested in the Access the Arts programs, STAGES offers a variety of courses at the Performing Arts Academy in Chesterfield. STAGES welcomes all students to participate in any Academy class or workshop in an inclusive environment. For more information on specialized and inclusive class opportunities, please call the Academy at 636.530.5959 or visit StagesStLouis.org.

Access the Arts is taught by professionally trained teaching artists and special educators and includes year-round once-a-week classes, multi-week summer workshops as well as the performing ensemble Troupe Broadway.

STAGES St. Louis is the region's foremost not-for-profit company committed to preserving and advancing the art form of Musical Theatre through excellence in performance and education. In 2014, STAGES celebrates its 28th year of producing Broadway-quality theatre, presenting 180 performances from April through October to nearly 65,000 patrons.

STAGES opened in 1987 with a budget of $50,000 and a part-time seasonal staff of eight. Today, the company employs a full-time staff of more than 30 overseeing a budget of over $4 million. During the performance season, an additional 150 actors, designers and technicians bring the productions to life. To date, STAGES professionals have produced 94 musicals, with over 2,900 performances, playing to over 900,000 patrons.

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