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Variety children soar in production of 'Peter Pan'

Emma Price, back left, leads a rehearsal.
Courtesy of Variety Club

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 23, 2013: Eight-year-old Selah Harris has accomplished something most of us will never do: fly.

Selah’s ascension takes place near the end of the Variety Children’s Theatre production of “Peter Pan,” which begins Friday at the Touhill. One of Selah’s characters is Jane, the daughter of the now grown-up Wendy Darling, who flies away from her mother to return to Neverland. On the way to her first flight practice Monday, Selah spoke with the Beacon about her mixed emotions.

“It sounds fun and scary at the same time,” Selah said.

After Selah donned a harness to be lifted above the stage, hovered for a minute and then touched down, she told Variety officials the fear melted away, a nod to Peter Pan’s assessment that, “All the world is made of faith, and trust and pixie dust.”

“It was awesome,” Selah said.

For Selah, who also plays a Native American, this is a first production with Variety, which serves children with physical and developmental disabilities. She auditioned last May on the advice of others who’ve been part of the organization’s first four plays.

“I heard how fun it would be from my friends and I really wanted to do it,” Selah said.

‘You can still do amazing things’

The process is also meaningful for adults, including Gerry Love, who plays a pirate in the play based on the J.M. Barrie classic tale. Last year, Love took the role of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in “Annie.” The retiree-turned-actor-and-photographer returned this year not only to work with professionals such as director Lara Teeter but to once again experience the exuberance of the Variety kids.

“That’s the whole purpose of it, just seeing the expressions on their faces when they’re on stage and singing,” Love said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

“Peter Pan” is the fifth Variety show for Emma Price, 20, who also plays a Native American. She had the role of an orphan in “Oliver!” and an Emerald City citizen in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Through Variety scholarships, Price has also enjoyed eight years of voice lessons. After she finishes high school, she’d like to pursue a degree in vocal performance or nursing. Through the organization and its productions, she’s experienced a wealth of attention focused on her, not her cerebral palsy.

“They don’t talk down to us or treat us differently,” Price said.

The impact of the Variety plays has been vast, infusing her life with new friends and a sharper focus. She’s looks forward to sharing the experience with audiences when the curtain opens.

“It’s wonderful to be able to show people that even if you have a disability, that doesn’t matter -- you can still do amazing things,” Price said. 

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