BROKEN ARROW, Okla. — A first and very special set of performances is preparing to hit the stage in Broken Arrow.
Broken Arrow Public Schools and Clark Youth Theatre are partnering to bring the musical Seussical Kids to the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center. However, this production is unlike any around and what makes it so special are its stars.
"Our special needs students are the artists. They are in the major roles, the chorus, all the parts. They sing, they dance, they learn the whole show and they perform it live in front of the audience," says the Director of the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center Kim Vento.
"It's just pure joy happening on stage," adds Tammy Slack, Executive Director of the Clark Youth Theatre.
The show is part of the Penguin Project, a national program giving kids with disabilities their time in the spotlight. This production is a first for Broken Arrow Public Schools.
"Our mission is to reach all of our students. We have an amazing fine arts program at Broken Arrow. About 80% of our student population is involved in the fine arts. This is a way the arts can reach this group of students who don't always have the opportunity to be the stars of the show," said Vento.
Clark Youth Theatre has put on these musicals in Tulsa for years. Anyone ages 8-22 is welcome to join. There are no other restrictions and no cost to be part of the Penguin Project.
"You don't need to audition to participate. You don't have to be ambulatory, you can be in a wheelchair. You can be nonverbal. What happens during rehearsal is that the Artists self-sort into who wants to say lines and sing and who kind of likes their spot on the second row," says Slack.
Penguin Project Artist Griffin Frederick is already eyeing his role. "I hope I'm going to be Horton the elephant because an elephant is my favorite animal," he tells 2 News Oklahoma.
The artists are paired with Peer Mentors- volunteers who keep the kids safe and comfortable on stage. Slack tells us, "They will stand either behind or slightly adjacent to the Artist through the whole production, and if something should happen and their art is not available to perform, they will be their understudy."
Those mentors also learn life lessons that go well beyond the theatre walls.
Sadee Brown is a Broken Arrow High School student who signed up to be a Peer Mentor says, "I didn't realize how hard it was for them until I was actually in their place for a second.”
Senior Avery Richter adds, "It's always awesome to just expand your horizons and really be there for other people."
The Penguin Project promises to be a magical and musical celebration of the human spirit, making sure every child gets their chance to shine.
"I know it is going to be a great show. I know it!" exclaims Artist Kyzen Thompson.
Rehearsals will continue for the next few months before the show in January. The Penguin Project is still accepting Artists and Peer Mentors. Here's more information if you'd like to join.
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