SYCAMORE – Ever since she first stood on stage, 20-year-old Madisyn Campbell has loved acting.
“My favorite part is when the audience claps at the end of the show,” Campbell said. “It makes me feel good, to know that we all worked so hard and they enjoyed the performance.”
Campbell has starred in three Children’s Community Theatre Penguin Project shows, and her goal is to one day have a leading role. Campbell has Turner syndrome, a chromosomal condition that affects development in females.
“I love Penguin Project because you don’t have to let your disabilities define you,” Campbell said. “You should love others for who they are, because it’s what’s on the inside that matters. That’s the best part about acting, you get to fit in and be with friends while telling a story.”
CCT Penguin Project gives children and young adults with disabilities, ages 10 to 22, who are called artists, the opportunity to perform a musical on stage. The artists are joined on stage by peer mentors, children their same age without disabilities. CCT Penguin Project is one of about 20 Penguin Project troupes in the country. The program began in 2010 and is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
CCT Penguin Project will present “Hairspray Jr.” this weekend at Sycamore High School. Performances will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets cost $12 for adults and $6 for students and can be bought at the door or online at www.sycamoretickets.org.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of CCT Penguin Project, a breakfast will be held 8 to 11 a.m. Sept. 22 at the Knights of Columbus, 1336 E. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb. Breakfast will include eggs, sausage, ham, fried potatoes, pancakes and biscuits and gravy. Tickets cost $8 for adults and $4 for children and can be bought at the shows or at the door.
Tracey Busby, who has directed all 10 Penguin Project shows, describes “Hairspray Jr.” as a musical about a young girl, Tracy Turnblad, who brings people together regardless of race, weight, popularity and economic status.
“Like Tracy, Penguin Project helps to break barriers, giving young people with or without disabilities the platform to learn about each other and work together,” Busby wrote in the play’s director notes.
Grace Turk, 15, who has Asperger’s syndrome and stars as the show’s lead, Tracy Turnblad, has been an artist in seven shows. Her peer mentor is Elizabeth Reynolds, 17.
“It’s been amazing to see the show come together,” Turk said. “I think everyone should be involved with the Penguin Project. If you join it, you’ll feel at home, because that’s how I feel. It’s a very accepting place. We accept everyone for who they are. We think of their disabilities as abilities.”
Jonah Malecki, 19, has starred in all 10 CCT Penguin Project shows. This year, his peer mentor is 16-year-old Hadyn Fischer.
“This year’s show teaches a lesson that every person, no matter their race or religion or anything, can fit in,” Jonah said. “It’s about their own selves, finding friends and a place to belong.”
Jonah’s mom, Christina Malecki, said that her son’s participation in Penguin Project has “absolutely and completely changed him for the better.”
“It’s greatly affected his confidence, and he’s become an amazing singer,” she said. “Before, he was a quiet boy with autism. We didn’t know if he’d enjoy theater. It’s been a wonderful experience for my son and so many others. I think it’s also changed the community’s perception of him and other children with disabilities. They have so much to offer and truly are the stars of the show.”
“Hairspray Jr.” is Maddie Huml’s second performance as a peer mentor for Penguin Project. Huml, 14, mentors 15-year-old Austin Raymond, who has Asperger’s syndrome.
“A lot of people close to me have disabilities, and I joined because it was a way to learn about people different from me,” Huml said. “Before Penguin Project, I didn’t realize how much people with disabilities are capable of. They’re capable of so much. ... I’ll come back every year because I want to be involved, because I’ve found my friends, my family.”