Annual Penguin Project plans play

Zachary Maley/The News
Members of the Penguin Project practice for their performanceZachary Maley/The News Members of the Penguin Project practice for their performance

Story by Da’Sha Tuck, Staff writer

Zachary Maley/The News Members of the Penguin Project practice for their performance

Zachary Maley/The News
Members of the Penguin Project practice for their performance

Broadway’s Seussical is coming to Playhouse in the Park. Performing this musical will be, what the directors of the program call artists, children ages 10-22 who have been diagnosed with a disability. 

Holly Bloodworth, director of the Penguin Project in Murray, said this particular production is more challenging for the students because of the extensive music selections. Last year the Penguins performed Annie. These productions are modified versions of the original Broadway musicals.

“The origin of the name ‘Penguin Project’ comes from the unique characteristics of penguins. They are extremely playful and curious, and work well together. More importantly, they have a ‘disability’ that distinguishes them from other birds – they can’t fly! Instead, penguins waddle and toboggan on their bellies over the snow, and are excellent swimmers in the water. So like our young artists, they have adapted to the challenges of their environment, and have not allowed their unique difference to interfere with their lives,” according to The Penguin Project Foundation Incorporated website.

“We have physical disabilities,” Bloodworth said. “We have a few children in wheelchairs and a child with a cleft palate. Some disabilities are cognitive. There is a range of disabilities.”

Each artist is matched with a volunteer mentor of their same age to help them through to production. The mentors go through training that equips them with the skills they will require.

Each disability is unique as is each personality. Bloodworth said some students are more confident about being on stage and some need more support. 

Bloodworth said she has an artist this year who has broken free of her shyness and is confident without her mentor being so close.

Bloodworth said there are a lot of rewards with being involved with this program.

“In this environment, children have breakthroughs,” Bloodworth said.

Lynn Melton, assistant director of the program, said they have picked up new participants this year. She said they knew the abilities of the students in the previous year who have returned but learning the abilities of the new participants is a transition.

Melton, retired teacher, said the most rewarding part about her position in this program is centered on expectations. She said people do not usually place high expectations on children with special needs but in this program she has even seen parents surprised at what their children accomplish.

“You have to admire them, some of them are just friends of the artists and want to help them have this experience,” Melton said. “I have seen kids build bonds that last beyond this program.”

Rehearsal for Seussical began in July. They first began rehearsing two days a week for an hour and then extended gradually. They had to rehearse at Murray High School because of productions scheduled on their actual stage. This week will be the first time the artists rehearse on their actual stage.

The Penguin Project will have the production on Friday, Sept. 12 through Sunday, Sept. 20.

Showtimes vary and tickets are available upon arrival or online at playhouseinthepark.net. Tickets cost $11 for adults, $10 for senior citizens, $9 for students and $8 for a children. Ordering online will add a $1.50 Internet processing fee per ticket.