18 | April 11, 2019 | the tinley Junction life & Arts

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


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


“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


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


“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


“I’m pumped,” Natalie

said. “I want the whole

team to make everyone


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


“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



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