In February, a magical and touching celebration of the human spirit will unfold in the Callaway Theater. SAAC’s first Penguin Project production will take the stage to perform Disney’s Aladdin, Jr. This production is unique because the young artists who fill all of the roles have developmental disabilities. They are joined on stage by a dedicated group of “peer mentors” – young people of approximately the same age without disabilities who have volunteered to work side by side with the actors through months of rehearsals and through the final performance.

Rehearsals for Aladdin, Jr. began in September with a cast of 40 under the direction of Gary Hall and Darrin Riley. The program has been a life-changing experience for everyone involved. It is providing a supportive environment for young people to explore their creative talents, and the program has demonstrated that participation in the performing arts has therapeutic value by enhancing social interaction, communication skills, self-confidence, and self-esteem. It is reaching beyond the stage to create a social network and forge new relationships among students, their families, and members of the community.

The South Arkansas Arts Center is the tenth Penguin Project replication site nationwide, following three in Illinois and one each in Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Michigan. SAAC has made a three year commitment to the Penguin Project. The Penguin Project Foundation, Peoria, Illinois, was created in 2007 in order to assist communities in developing their own Penguin Projects under the direction of Dr. Andy Morgan.