18 | April 11, 2019 | the tinley Junction life & Arts tinleyjunction.com Down in the Southland to present ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Amanda Del Buono Freelance Reporter The story of “Alice in Wonderland” is one of enchantment and wonder that brings back the joy of childhood imagination for many. From April 11 to April 13, the community is invited to experience the wonder of this story in a performance by Tinley Park’s Down in the Southland. The performances will take place at Evergreen Park High School. Down in the Southland is a non-profit organization that is focused on encouraging social and educational growth of individuals with Down syndrome and their families. The organization also works to build community acceptance of individuals with Down syndrome and other special needs. “I started Down in the Southland 14 years ago. It was just a mom’s play group, and then it sort of morphed into its own entity and took on a life of its own,” said Juliette De Nova, president and founder of Down in the Southland. “We incorporated nine years ago and became a 501 c(3), and really the goal of everything that we do is creating opportunities for community inclusion for people who have Down syndrome and their families.” Four years ago, Down in the Southland began its musical theater program, as many individuals with Down syndrome are fond of song and dance, and have a passion for being on the stage, Juliette said. With each performance, Juliette can see the growth of the cast and crew involved, she said. In fact, her daughter, Natalie De Nova, 16, is among those who Juliette has seen significant growth. “We have cast members who have Down syndrome and cast members who do not have Down syndrome, and they’re there as peers. A lot of programs will pair them up as a buddy or a helper, and we just don’t do that, because it’s not necessary,” Juliette said. “These young actors who have Down syndrome are just as capable to be on stage without somebody standing in black behind them. “I mean, my daughter, for example, the first year we did ‘Annie,’ and she was Pepper, so she was just one of the orphans, she only had a few lines. She was also Bert Healy and she had some lines there. Then she moved up, and the next year we did ‘Jungle Book,’ and she was Shere Khan. So, she moved into a bigger role, and then last year, we did ‘Aladdin,’ and she played Jasmine,” Juliette added. “So, she was thrilled to be able to be the lead in the show and be Jasmine. She’s grown every step of the way, and to see the change in her has been good. She’s always been very confident when she’s been on stage and things like that, but she’s grown in other ways, too.” Natalie, who will be performing as a Cheshire Cat, a part to be performed by three individuals, in the “Alice in Wonderland” performance, said she’s excited for the production this weekend. “I’m pumped,” Natalie said. “I want the whole team to make everyone proud.” Juliette said that Natalie isn’t the only actor with Down syndrome who has grown from their participation in the theater program. Many of the actors with Down syndrome have gotten more comfortable being on stage and speaking more lines as each year passes, she added. However, it’s not only the actors with Down syndrome who grow from the experience. Those without Down syndrome gain an understanding that their peers with Down syndrome are just that, peers, who are as capable and don’t need help as much as they need a friend, Juliette said. “It’s exciting to watch the whole cast grow,” she said. “I think the kind of unexpected thing for me has been the change and the growth in the actors who don’t have Down syndrome.” This year’s presentation of “Alice in Wonderland” will feature a cast and crew totaling about 30 individuals, Juliette said. With tryouts taking place this past October, the cast has been working on the program for about six months to prepare for this week’s performances. All those who tried out were given a role that fit their personal comfort level on stage, Juliette said. Juliette, along with a special education teacher and an occupational therapist, act as liaisons between the volunteer theater professionals and the actors with special needs, helping to explain and adjust the parts as needed for the performers. “The three of us tend to say, ‘OK theater people, what are you trying to get the cast to do, and how do you want them to do it?’ Then, we help facilitate that learning for the cast. So, sometimes it’s, ‘Let’s put some tape on the floor and do the dance moves Brendan Koehler, of Chicago Ridge, will act as Mad Hatter in the production of “Alice in Wonderland” by Tinley Park’s Down in the Southland April 11-13. Photo submitted and show them where to put their feet,’ and other times it’s ‘I don’t know if doing it in that way is going to work. Let’s modify it and change it so it’s physically less challenging for all of the actors.’” However, it’s not often that major adjustments are made to accommodate. Instead, Juliette works to develop with solutions that help the actors succeed in the performance as it was intended. “Most often, we can come up with something. It’s very rare that we actually simplify it in some way. We try not to do that, because that’s not what this is about,” she said. “It’s about getting them to realize where their ability is and then holding them there, and not bringing it down below them just to make it easy.” For those who attend, Juliette says they can expect a great performance by a passionate group of people. “I think with the curtains open, people expect to see something that is cute no matter what they do, and I want them at the end of the show to realize, well at some point during the show, that they stop seeing the differences of the actors on stage, and just start seeing a performance, and get caught up and enjoy the performance, and see the capabilities of everyone that’s on stage,” she said. Admission to the show will be available at the door, if not sold out, for $15, which will support Down in the Southland’s theater program. Tickets can also be purchased online for $11 by visiting hwww.classy.org/event/ performance-tickets-foralice-in-wonderland-jr/ e214732.
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