BWW Previews: YOUTH WITH SPECIAL NEEDS GET CHANCE TO PERFORM THROUGH NEW TAMPA PLAYERS' THE PENGUIN PROJECT at University Area CDC

BWW Previews: YOUTH WITH SPECIAL NEEDS GET CHANCE TO PERFORM THROUGH NEW TAMPA PLAYERS' THE PENGUIN PROJECT at University Area CDC
Anyone who has been on stage understands the magic that happens when a group of people learn lines, music, choreography and blocking, put on make-up, wigs and costumes, use props, react to sound effects and bow to thunderous applause... together. The cast becomes a family and that experience becomes an addiction, a theatre fix that is only satisfied by performing in another show.

New Tampa Players wants to share this passion with young people with special needs who have interest in theatre but may never have been afforded the chance to be on stage.

Earlier this year, New Tampa Players became only the 16th community theatre awarded the opportunity to be part of the award-winning Penguin Project. Founded by Dr. Andy Morgan in 2004, the Penguin Project pairs young people ages 8-21 with special needs such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, visual and hearing impairments, and other neurological disorders with peer mentors of the same age. A wheelchair will not impede a child from performing.

"Whatever the special needs is, we are going to find a way to make it happen," Nora Paine, production manager explained. "That's one of the things Dr. Morgan is going to help us with. He and his team come down six different times through this process to consult with us."

The first performance of New Tampa Players' The Penguin Project will be Aladdin Jr.

Nora is seeking peer mentors to help with rehearsals and appear on stage with their partners who get to shine - acting, singing and dancing during Aladdin Jr. High school peer mentors can earn volunteer hours towards the Bright Futures' scholarship requirements.

On November 5 at 7pm and again on November 11 at 530pm, an informational meeting will be held at Family of Christ Lutheran Church, 16190 Bruce B Downs Blvd in Tampa. Nora and Dr. Morgan will be attendance to provide answers to parents' and volunteers' questions.

"Frequently, community theatre has ways for children with special needs to be in the ensemble -which is wonderful and definitely something we should do - but this gives them a way to be Aladdin or Jasmine, the lead roles they normally may not get the opportunity to do," she said. "No matter what the special need is, we will make it work for that child to participate."

Actors and their peer mentors will start rehearsal in early December, learning basic steps of choreography and the group number music until Christmas break. The peer mentors rotate to the different actors to find optimal pairings.

"We're seeing who is working well together to assign peer mentors to each child. If there's a pair that really wants to work together, we are happy to make that happen."

Parents will be given script selections to help their child prepare for cast auditions in January for the performance on April 5-7.

"Any child with special needs who wants to read for a part, can," she said. "It's not going to be - stand up in front of this gigantic group or the director and read."

The children will take turns reading for roles in a relaxed, casual setting.

"I don't want any parent to think their child can't do theatre because of X, Y or Z. It's important that everybody be exposed to the arts and the only way to make that happen is to make sure that you are reaching out to everybody."

For information about the Penguin Project and to complete an interest form, visit http://www.newtampaplayers.org/penguin-project-of-new-tampa. If you are interested in volunteering as part of the production team or your business would like sponsor this special event, please contact Nora Paine at president@newtampaplayers.org.

Aladdin Jr will be at University Area CDC, 14013 N. 22nd Street, Tampa on April 5 at 8pm, April 6 at 2pm and 8pm, and April 7 at 2pm. Tickets are $15.

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From This Author Deborah Bostock-Kelley

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