Theatre partnership gives those with disabilities stage to shine

On April 23, Gundlach Theatre will come alive with a woodsy cast of characters, including two amphibious friends – a worrywart toad and a perky frog – and their assorted hopping, crawling and flying companions.

To say that Heidelberg Theatre’s upcoming production of “A Year with Frog and a Toad” will have a unique cast is an understatement, but in the most lovely, accepting and collaborative way. Heidelberg Theatre and Director Stephen Svoboda received a $5,400 grant from the local George W. Deinzer Endowment Fund to produce this children’s musical in partnership with the Seneca County Opportunity Center. The center’s mission is to improve the lives of people with disabilities.

The underlying goal of the partnership: to build community.

Heidelberg students in the Theatre for Young Adults class, under the direction of theatre instructor David Cotter, are currently hosting weekly workshops at the School of Opportunity, including instructions in singing, dancing and acting, along with props and costumes – all aspects of staging a production that allows all age ranges of students at the school to participate to the best of their ability.

Some of the cast members will be able to perform a role on their own, while others are paired with Heidelberg students to perform a role as partners, according to Stephen, who authored the grant. It is collaboration in its purest form.

“The arts are supposed to be about building community and engaging different community groups who might feel disenfranchised,” Stephen says. “We are so excited for these individuals with exceptional abilities to have this opportunity to thrive in front of audiences and hear applause.”

“This is our way of celebrating all people in the community and celebrating people who work with the disabled population,” he says.

In all, 30 ‘Berg students are visiting the School of Opportunity’s 25-30 students who are participating in some way with “A Year with Frog and Toad.” One such student is Gavin Buurma, a senior theatre major.

Initially, Gavin says he was “really nervous” to work with the School of Opportunity student actors. But that trepidation quickly disappeared. The classroom rehearsals are very structured, but there’s plenty of room for fun and creative expression.

“One of the kids is so sassy and fun,” Gavin says. “We’re even incorporating an air guitar into the production.”

The experience so far has been amazing, Gavin says. “It’s been very rewarding to see them blossom.”

Beyond the jazzy, upbeat score with a memorable melody and plenty of wit, this exuberant and enchanting musical is about so much more than its production value.

“I hope our students see theatre is about more than getting applause in a show,” Stephen says. “It’s about using the arts in a way that is very impactful beyond the awards and fame.”

To reserve your tickets for “A Frog and A Toad,” visit the Gundlach Theatre website at gundlachtheatre.org.

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