SYCAMORE – Alex Earl of DeKalb has been looking forward to turning 10 for years, so she could participate in Children’s Community Theatre’s Penguin Project like her older brother and sister.
“I’m really excited and happy to be in the play this year and follow in my brother and sister’s footsteps,” Earl said. “I’ve made a lot of friends. It’s awesome and so much fun.”
CCT’s Penguin Project is one of about 20 Penguin Project troupes in the country. The program, which began in 2010, and is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, allows children and young adults with disabilities, ages 10 to 22, called artists, the opportunity to perform a musical on stage. The artists are joined on stage by peer mentors, children their same age without disabilities.
Earl is the peer mentor for Michael Reynolds, 12, who is on the autism spectrum.
CCT’s Penguin Project will present “Hairspray Jr.” this weekend at Sycamore High School. Performances will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets cost $12 for adults and $6 students and can be purchased at the door or online at www.sycamoretickets.org.
Tracey Busby, who has directed all 10 Penguin Project shows, describes “Hairspray Jr” as a play about a young girl, Tracy Turnblad, who brings people together, regardless of race, weight, popularity and economic status.
“Like Tracy, Penguin Project helps to break barriers, giving young people with or without disabilities the platform to learn about each other and work together,” Busby wrote in the play’s director notes.
Grace Turk, 15, who has Aspergers and stars as the show’s lead, Tracy Turnblad, has been an artist in seven shows. Her peer mentor is Elizabeth Reynolds, 17.
“It’s been amazing to see the show come together,” Turk said. “I think everyone should be involved with the Penguin Project. If you join it, you’ll feel at home, because that’s how I feel. It’s a very accepting place. We accept everyone for who they are. We think of their disabilities as abilities.”