Young Artists With Special Needs: The Penguin Project ® is open to any individual age 10 to 21 with a developmental disability. This includes children with cognitive, learning, motor, hearing, and visual impairments, genetic disorders, and neurological disorders. There are no restrictions based on the level of cognitive ability, restriction of mobility, or lack of communication skills. Because of concerns for safety, however, we are unable to accept anyone whose behavior might endanger himself/herself or others. Peer Mentors: The Penguin Project ® utilizes a “peer mentor” system, linking each young artist with an age level peer who does not have a disability. Mentors must be at least 10 years old and can continue up to age 21. The peer-mentors work side-by-side with their partners, assisting them throughout the entire rehearsal process and on stage. The mentors are responsible for knowing all of the lines, songs, and blocking of their partners. They are on-stage during the production, costumed to match or compliment their partners. They participate in the group production numbers, but are trained to remain “in the background” and provide direct assistance to their partner only as needed. Families and Adult Volunteers: The Penguin Parents are the “backbone” of the program. We depend on them to assist their children in learning lines, songs, and dances outside of the rehearsals, since rehearsal times are limited and need to focus on interactive processes rather than memorization. Family members and other adult volunteers also help build sets, sew costumes, and find props. They coordinate the backstage area during the run of the show, and are often called upon to assist the staff at rehearsals.
The Penguin Project ® has been fortunate to find a home at Eastlight Theatre, a local community theater that was created through an intergovernmental agreement between the City of East Peoria, the Fondulac Park District, and East Peoria High School.
Under the stewardship of Executive Director and Technical Director, Steve Cordle, Eastlight is well known for its professional-level technical capabilities and has been a pioneer in developing innovative programs for children and adults. Eastlight provides full technical and production support for The Project including set design and construction, light design and execution, and sound support with a full wireless microphone system. The organization also provides rehearsal space, and box office support.
Easter Seals Center in Peoria is a sponsor and supporter of the Penguin Project. Each year, Easter Seals underwrites the dress rehearsal of the production, as a special event for its staff and volunteers. Easter Seals hosts a reception following the performance to give the audience an opportunity to meet and greet the cast. Each cast member is introduced and receives a rose as a memento of the evening.
The Penguin Project ® productions are staged at Eastlight Theatre in mid January. The process begins each year with an organizational meeting in late August before Labor Day. The meeting is publicized through announcements and flyers throughout the area. The meeting date and time are also posted on this website. Anyone interested in participating must fill out an application form each year. There are separate application forms for artists, mentors, and adult volunteers. There is no audition process, but the cast is limited to 80 participants. If there are more applicants for the cast than spaces available, the cast is selected randomly based on age and the needs of the show. There is no cost to participate in the program.
Rehearsals for the production begin in early September, shortly after the “Informational Meeting.” Rehearsals for the entire cast are typically 2 times per week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, at the Fondulac Park District Office Building in East Peoria (see “Directions” for the location of the rehearsal space). The group rehearsals begin promptly at 6:45 and end at 8:00 with “snacks” that are coordinated and provided by the parents.
Artists and mentors are paired at the beginning of each of the initial rehearsals, and partners are free to switch to find the best possible match. After three to four weeks, the matches are finalized, and continue for the rest of the production process. Some of the more experienced and independent artists may not have mentors, but are paired with each other so no one is ever alone.
Blocking rehearsals (lines and scenes) begin in mid-October on Mondays and Wednesdays. Artists with lines and their mentors may rehearse up to two additional times per week, depending on the size of their role. There is no formal audition process for the lead roles – these are assigned by the production staff, based on their observations during the group rehearsals. Rehearsals increase up to five times a week for everyone as we near the production dates. We do rehearse over the winter break, taking a few days off for Christmas and New Years.