Inclusive St. Louis theater company gives children with disabilities 'the possible'
A local children’s theater company that puts kids with special needs on stage alongside professional actors is performing Disney’s Beauty and the Beast this weekend at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.
Variety the Children’s Charity of St. Louis started the theater group eight years ago, after starting a children’s chorus in 2006.
“For the kids it gives them the possible,” said Brian Roy, interim executive director of Variety. “Everything we do, we focus on building independence, their skills, socialization, and self-esteem to give kids that confidence to feel like ‘why not me? Why couldn’t I be the star of a show?’”
Variety works with children across a spectrum of physical and developmental disabilities, providing medical equipment and therapy as well as recreational programs like summer camp and Variety Children’s Theatre.
Roy said the shows also change public perceptions about what children with special needs can do.
“There’s no reason that these kids shouldn’t be active participants in society. And this is that extension to change their perceptions when they see them on stage right next to a professional adult equity actor doing the things that every other actor can do,” Roy said.
This year’s production of Beauty and the Beast features a chorus of more than 70 children, including more than 20 children with special needs ranging from Cerebral Palsy to autism and hearing impairment. All children auditioned for their roles, and nine children also help with production, such as running lights and sound.
10-year-old Keira Cromwell plays Chip, a little boy who has been enchanted into a talking teacup. Keira has polio, and her teacup costume is built around her wheelchair.
“My favorite part about being Chip is probably being a little boy,” Keira said. “I’ve never been a little boy before.”
Keira said rehearsals were a lot of work, but getting to sing and perform is worth it.
“It’s really amazing. And I can’t wait for when the show’s over because then I might be able to try out for another show,” Keira said with a grin.
The final two performances of Beauty and the Beast are Saturday night at 7 and Sunday afternoon at 1:30.
Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.