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SC Town Highlights Inclusion through Theatre
Greenwood Community Theatre took on an important project last fall. It’s a theatre project called the Penguin Project. Plays performed by the Penguin Project provide young artists that are differently abled (including Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, visual impairment, hearing impairment, delays, emotional disorders, and other neurological disorders) the opportunity to star in the roles of a musical. These artists are joined on stage by a “peer mentor” – a volunteer buddy that works alongside the artist through the full rehearsal and performance process.
Established in 2004, the Penguin Project has evolved into a national program, with replication sites throughout the United States.
According to the Index-Journal, “Greenwood Community Theatre is the first Penguin Project in South Carolina and it’s only the second replication program to be implemented in the Southeastern United States. It’s one of only about 20 models currently in the U.S.”
Dr. Andrew Morgan, founder of the Penguin Project, said his motivation for starting a theater program for children with special needs is that they might “spread their wings and do great things.”
According to the Penguin Project website, the program has “demonstrated that participation in the performing arts has therapeutic value by enhancing social interaction, communication skills, self-confidence and self-esteem. The impact of the program has reached beyond the stage to create a social network for children who previously had very few friends and limited social opportunities.
“Several of the people that were involved...we never thought they would get in front of a crowd and do this,” says Jimmy Burton, the Executive Director of the Burton Center. “When they were challenged with this project they seemed to grow, they seemed to blossom and their communication grew. It just helped them grow as a person.” Burton Center was created in 1971 to provide essential services to individuals with disabilities and special needs and to offer much-needed assistance to their families.
Photos and Video provided by Greenwood Community Theatre. Photos taken by Tita James.