Parents of those kids that routinely get squeezed out of stuff because of a disability have cause to celebrate today. And we know that sometimes celebrations can be few and far between.

In October of last year I went to an informational meeting of the first inclusive theatre production for actors with a disability to be performed in the Quad Cities. It was a group called the Penguin Project looking to set up shop here and do Annie at Augie's Brunner Theatre. If I'm being totally honest, the only reason I gave this group the time of day was because of Dino and Tina from the Center For Living Arts. The meeting was at their theatre in Rock Island, and I thought, "Well, if they're involved, it's got to be legit."

Legit it was, if not a little too syrupy at that first meeting. Dr. Andrew Morgan spoke from the heart about his passion for theatre, and a desire to bring the joy of the stage to kids who might otherwise have been left in the wings. Kids who for once could know the hard work, and the payoff, of captivating an audience. I sat there with my crossed arms, trying to find his angle. I'm a skeptic of programs designed for kids like my Katie, that either offer too little or ask for too much. But it dawned on me finally-- and I'm a little embarrassed to say it now-- but Dr. Andy had no ulterior motive. He wants to celebrate the joy of theatre. He's done this all over the country for the last 14 years. He started it all in Peoria. I'll be damned.

That was the last time I doubted the Penguin Project. From that Meeting in October, Katie studied lines, learned songs, auditioned, worked some more, and finally held her own onstage, solo, as Miss Hannigan, the kind of singing villain she has dreamed about playing, but that every previous director could not. (Lauryn was her mentor, and just the sweetest, most loving high school kid in the world.)

Each actor is paired with a mentor. Someone who attends to their needs until eventually they don't have them. They shadow the actors onstage as part of the production, in character dress, a vital but invisible part of the production. So, if you're keeping score: That's miracle number 2. First, kids previously awkward onstage are finding confidence. Second, other theatre kids are stepping into the shadows to allow another to take the spotlight. Folks--this is a good thing.

Annie jr. just finished it's run with 15 actors. I was spellbound by the performances. To see this cast cast-off their hardships and run a show was, well, entertaining. Truly entertaining. Dino and Tina from the Center (and Tim Cook, and Joe the lights guy), along with Augie's Jeff Coussens created a great resource for all of us parents, and these special kids of ours, able to act afool, and fit in. For once.

The next show is already chosen (Beauty and The Beast,) and I would look to October for the next meeting. Go to it. You won't be sorry.

CenterForLivingArts.orgPenguinProject.org