MUSKEGON — A special theatre project that Muskegon Civic Theatre (MCT) and the No More Sidelines organization produced here this past fall has received a national award from the National Arts and Humanities.
The Penguin Project of Muskegon Civic Theatre has been honored with the 2017 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, the nation’s highest honor for these programs. The project was recognized for its effectiveness in promoting learning and life skills in young people by engaging them through creative programs.
Oct. 14 and 15, The Penguin Project of Muskegon Civic Theatre staged the musical “Annie Jr.” at the historic Frauenthal Theater in downtown Muskegon.
MCT and No More Sidelines collaborated on the show whose two performances drew around 1,200 people.
“This is our first year of The Penguin Project and we have seen what it means for our artists, their families, and to our community,” said Kirk Wahamaki, MCT’s artistic director. “We are proud to be a part of The Penguin Project.”
The Penguin Project gives children, teens, and young adults with special needs an opportunity to star in a community theatre production. The young artists have a wide spectrum of special needs including Down syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorders, intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy and ADHD. Participation in the program enhances social skills, communication skills, and self-esteem.
Using “Junior” versions of Broadway musicals that are professionally modified for young performers, The Penguin Project artists are matched with Peer Mentors who guide and assist them through rehearsals and join them on stage for the production.
The awardees — chosen from a pool of 350 nominations and 50 finalists — were recognized for improving academic achievement, literacy and language abilities, communication and performance skills, and cultural awareness.
Started in Peoria, Ill., in 2004, The Penguin Project has become a national program with 26 replication sites in 15 states throughout the country, including Michigan where this year MCT and No More Sidelines staged the only Penguin Project show in the state.
Since the founding of The Penguin Project, hundreds of children have participated in and benefitted from a wide range of productions.
The Penguin Project was founded on the principle that children with special needs can participate in and excel at community activities when given the opportunity and support,” said Andrew Morgan, M.D., founder of The Penguin Project. “We have seen young people who had no friends, would hide when they met people, and feared interaction with others blossom into engaged and confident individuals who proudly show their talents. To see this program grow as it has and benefit young artists with special needs and their families across the country is immensely gratifying. We’re incredibly proud of this award and of the young people, volunteers, supporters, board and staff across the country who made it possible.”
First presented in 1998, the 2017 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards were presented through a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), in cooperation with the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA). In addition to the national recognition, The Penguin Project will receive $10,000 to support its programming and engage more young people from the community.