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‘It's my dream come true’

Krystle Wagner • Oct 11, 2017 at 2:00 PM

MUSKEGON — Kylee VanTol’s excitement is infectious as she discusses her upcoming performance on the Frauenthal Center’s stage.

After months of rehearsals, the Spring Lake resident and other artists will perform “Annie Jr.” this weekend through the Penguin Project of Muskegon Civic Theatre

The artists, who all have disabilities and range in age from 10-24, are partnered with a peer-mentor who learned the show alongside them and will provide on-stage support.

Dr. Andrew Morgan of Illinois founded the Penguin Project as a way to provide individuals with all abilities the chance to participate in the performing arts, said Heather McCallum, Muskegon Civic Theatre’s director of education and assistant music director.

Muskegon is the first location for the project in Michigan and 11th in the country, McCallum said. This is the first year of a six-year contract between the Muskegon Civic Theatre and the Penguin Project.

The Muskegon theater group also partnered with No More Sidelines.

VanTol, 24, will play the roles of Lily St. Regis, who claims to be Annie’s mother, and Mrs. Greer, who is the head servant of Mr. Warbucks.

“I love being on stage,” she said. “I can show off my theater skills and the special bonds between mentors and artists.”

Although the Penguin Project is new to West Michigan, VanTol first learned about it during a family trip to Chicago. From the moment she watched the performance, VanTol said she wanted to live with her aunt and uncle to be part of the project.

“I think it’s just amazing to see kids act with disabilities on stage,” she said. “I just wanted to be part of it someday.”

VanTol was previously involved in Spring Lake High School’s 2012 production of “The Sound of Music.” She is currently a Grand Rapids Community College student through Noorthoek Academy and a Grand Haven Community-Based Instruction student. She’s also on the board for the academy and an assistant for Covenant Life Church’s Regatta program.

Before auditioning for the Penguin Project, participants became familiar with the show and learned its “goodbye song,” which is the “Glee” version of “Don’t Stop Believing.”

After auditions were completed and roles were announced, artists have rehearsed a few times each week for two hours at a time. Following rehearsals, artists and their families have snacks, drinks and fellowship.

“There’s a wonderful sense of community that we have,” McCallum said.

Throughout rehearsals, Morgan and his wife have flown in and provided support and answer questions, McCallum said.

Through her experience with the Penguin Project, VanTol said she’s gained confidence, become more outgoing and smiles more.

Kylee’s mother, Lyn VanTol, said it’s brought a new joy to her daughter’s life. She’s watched Kylee become more confident and assertive in all settings.

Although learning the show and the lines has been hard work, VanTol said the rehearsals have been fun and she’s enjoyed spending time with the new friends she’s made through the Penguin Project. With a few rehearsals remaining, VanTol said she’s excited to share her “God-given talent” of acting at her fullest potential.

“It’s my dream come true,” she said.

The shows are at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14; and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15, at the Frauenthal Center, 425 W. Western Ave., Muskegon.

Tickets are $10, and can be purchased at the door or online at startickets.com and frauenthal.org. Tickets purchased online are subject to a surcharge.

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