For Good: New Tampa Players launches new theatre project for special needs kids

Not only does the local community theatre the New Tampa Players enact brilliance on the stage, they also are enabling others to do so with a new program called The Penguin Project, a unique theatre program for Tampa Bay area children with special needs. 

In 2004, The Penguin Project was created in by Dr. Andy Morgan in Peoria, IL; he loved community theatre and wanted to support children with special needs as they explored their creative talents. This project has chapters across the United States, but this will be the first and only replication site in Florida.
 
“Right now there’s nothing like it in the area, except for the Theatre of the Exceptional in Clearwater, so families here would have to drive really far to participate. The peer mentors of this are really the core of the project, which is what makes it different from others. It’s not just about the skills learned, but it gives the young artists the opportunity to build community. They build friendships that last a lifetime, and we want to give them and their families that opportunity which will extend into their schools and outside the community theatre,” says Nora Paine, the President of the New Tampa Players.
 
The special needs artists will range in age from 8-21, and will each be given a peer mentor that is close to their age to help them through rehearsals and the performance process. The first production will be Aladdin Junior, which will have its first performances in April, with rehearsals and performances hosted at the University Area CDC.
 
“The mentors don’t necessarily have to have theatre experience, they just have to have the heart for it, since that can’t be taught. The program is structured differently from usual theatre productions. There are no auditions, so every child will have a role. In early December, we’ll start with general rehearsals, like learning the dance steps. During this time, we will rotate the mentors with the artists to find the right matches. We will have a casting rehearsal at the end of December, so the children can read for certain roles. We will cast the show over the holiday break and from there, we will block out rehearsals and get into more detail,” Paine says.
 
For parents interested in signing their children up for this program, you can visit the New Tampa Players website here. The first informational meeting will be held in November; joining their mailing list will supply additional FAQ information as the event gets closer.
 
For those interested in sponsoring The Penguin Project, you can visit this link.

Read more articles by Caitlin Albritton.

Caitlin Albritton is a freelance writer based in Tampa with a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and a MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art. When she's not looking at art throughout town, she can be found making it. You can keep up with her visual art on Instagram @caitlinalbritton or on her website.
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