Wishes and dreams take center stage at inclusive musical revue
May 3, 2019
Most of the performers in the musical revue When You Wish Upon a Star have a hard time picking one favorite song. That’s not the case for Grace Renstrom, a high school senior in Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Spotlight Education program. She says “Singin’ in the Rain” is special, because she associates it with a single moment during rehearsal when she looked over at fellow performer Sharon Palay and saw a huge, energetic smile. Sharon uses a wheelchair and doesn’t have the opportunity to dance often, but she has a central role in the choreography for the upbeat and colorful number.
“Seeing her laugh is one of my favorite moments,” says Renstrom.
The Trust’s Spotlight Education program and Sabes Jewish Community Center’s Inclusion program partnered to create When You Wish Upon a Star. It is a truly inclusive performance, featuring 16 performers who are challenged by a variety of disabilities singing and dancing side by side with 13 typical high school theater students. The participants have been rehearsing with Twin Cities teaching artists for weeks — working, learning and laughing together.
The cast performed the show this week at Star Studio, the in-house TV station at Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota. It was streamed live directly into the rooms of patients who could not otherwise attend a performance. Tickets are still available for a second performance Monday, May 6 at Sabes Jewish Community Center. Throughout the performance, the stars of the show shared their wishes, hopes and dreams.
“A dream I have is to be an actor one day and to hopefully get my actors’ equity card,” says recent Spotlight graduate Sisloob Lo.
“I dream to get my driver’s license,” shared Tony Johnson, a performer with the Sabes Inclusion program.
“I wish society would accept me for who I am,” says Palay.
Performer Justin Surbaugh’s mother says this is what inclusivity should look like. “What people think is it’s a circle of people with special needs doing an activity,” says Kim Surbaugh explaining that those activities usually don’t include mixed groups of people.
Surbaugh participated last year, and is thrilled to be back on the stage this year.
“It was a different but awesome way to feel confident,” explains Justin Surbaugh, “and I still feel that confidence now, even when I’m not on the stage.”
“While the performance is a highlight of the program, it is actually the journey that is most meaningful to the participants,” says Anita Lewis, Sabes JCC Inclusion director. She says adults in her Inclusion program want the same opportunities as everyone else. It’s also about allowing the Spotlight kids to experience an inclusive environment. “When they are on stage in New York, or out in the world, I want them to look around and say ‘why aren’t there any people not like me on this stage.’ They are my ambassadors. They are my hope for the future.”
Performer Shaina Shagalow, a soprano who dreams of a career as an actress and singer, enjoyed the streamed performance at Children’s Hospital, but is excited about the upcoming show at Sabes. “You’ll get the reaction from the audience, to know if they’re laughing or crying or applauding,” she says.
Reserve your tickets now for the Monday, May 6 performance.