Onto the stage, into the light

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Courtesy photo Charmaine Brown, left, and Emma Neary, with shadow actor Gabby Mendoza, practice songs and lines during a rehearsal for Out of the Shadows Theater’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof, Jr.” Out of the Shadows provides acting opportunities for individuals with special needs and disabilities. “Fiddler” will be in the Kroc Theater Nov. 17, 18 and 19.

COEUR d’ALENE — It’s a sweet spin on live theater — every actor on stage has special needs or a disability.

The concept is simple: Each actor is accompanied throughout the rehearsals and during the production with a non-disabled shadow actor who coaches, prompts and provides support.

For Out of the Shadows Theater, it works brilliantly.

“We believe that theater is for everyone, not just as audience members but also as performers,” said Out of the Shadows founder and artistic director/producer Wendy Carroll. "Theater has recently been identified as a form of therapy for individuals who have autism. It has measurable value and the benefits are lasting."

Out of the Shadows will present “Fiddler on the Roof, Jr.” Nov. 17, 18 and 19 with a cast of 35 actors and 35 shadow actors at the Kroc Center Theater.

The year-old theater company wowed its audience last November with its inaugural production of “Beauty and the Beast, Jr.," playing at the sold-out, 400 seat theater twice.

“We had hoped for full houses," Carroll said. "It was bittersweet to have to turn away 200 people when the seats ran out.”

Last year’s production inspired a young disabled actress to walk. Olya Scheel had been in a wheelchair her entire life. Setting a goal to walk on stage, she doubled down on her therapy and walked on stage in her role as "Babette" the French maid a week before opening night.

“She took our breath away,” Carroll said.

Olya is back again in this year’s production, still walking.

Carroll brought her idea to the theater community in the summer of 2016 and it was welcomed with great enthusiasm. With no budget but a solid belief in the support of the community, Carroll assembled a production team of professionals: consultant Ellen Travolta, director Lorna Hamilton, musical director Julie Powell, set and lighting designer Michael McGiveney, Emmy-award-winning costume designer Judith McGiveney, stage manager Tia Wooley and a host of others who elevated the production values to a professional level.

This year most return with the addition of stage manager Lizzie Kitzig and costume designer Jamie Russell. Everybody on the production team donates five months of their time and talent.

Out of the Shadows is a nonprofit that operates under but functions independently of Specialized Needs Recreation. The theater relies on the kindness of local businesses, organizations and the audience.

"Fiddler" is still in need of volunteers for backstage crew, makeup/hair, follow spot operator, ushers and box office.

To participate onstage or backstage, or to become a sponsor or donate, contact Carroll at 208-818-0953.

In keeping with the goal to make the arts accessible to everyone, American Sign Language interpreters will be present at the Nov. 17 and 19 performances (contact 208-763-0606 for ASL-accessible seats only).

IF YOU GO:

Show times for “Fiddler on the Roof, Jr.” are Nov. 17 and 18 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov 19. at 2 p.m. Tickets are by donation and may be purchased at the door. Reservations are recommended. Advance tickets may be purchased at the Kroc Center or online at www.kroccda.org/calendar.html (events, November).

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