Penguin Project: 'You are an actor, baby!'

Local effort brings the art of acting to kids with special needs

There's a local effort underway to bring the art of acting to kids with special needs. Actors in the Penguin Project of the Quad Cities are gearing up for their second play.

"The Penguin Project is a national project, and what it does is it takes artists, kids with special needs between the ages of 10 and 22 and gives them a chance to shine on stage," said Living Arts Center Dino Hayz. "An artist, a kid with a special need, is paired with a mentor, and those two, the mentor learns all of the artist's movements and all of their songs and helps guide them through the entire process."

They will put on a production of "Beauty and the Beast" in February. 

"We have 78 this year, and that's up from 37 last year," Hayz said. "We have some students with just physical-like mobility issues, we have other students on the autism spectrums."

The kids were working on "Be Our Guest" and "Don't Stop Believing" when we caught up with them.

"I have autism and I love acting, a lot," performer Nick Johnson said. "And yes, I do like to have acting as my soul!"

Many of the cast and crew shared what the play means to them. 

"I really love working with kids and I have a special place in my heart with kiddos with special needs," mentor Kelci Eaton said. "I'm actually going to school to be a speech therapist and primarily want to work with kids with special needs. Just basically you really need to get to know your artist otherwise it can be a little more difficult, but once you get to know them it's just smooth sailing from there."


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