Replication site hosted at the Community Theatre League

The Penguin Project has been honored with the 2017 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, the nation’s highest honor. Recognized for its effectiveness in promoting learning and life skills in young people by engaging them through creative programs, The Penguin Project has 26 sites in 15 states, including one at the Community Theatre League, 100 W. Third St.

Twelve different arts and humanities programs were awarded the 2017 honor, out of more than 350 entrants. They were recognized for improving academic achievement, literacy and language abilities, communication and performance skills and cultural awareness. First presented in 1998, the 2017 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards were presented through a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), in cooperation with the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA).

The Penguin Project gives children, teens and young adults with special needs an opportunity to present a community theatre production. These young artists have a wide spectrum of special needs including Down Syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, physical handicaps, cerebral palsy and ADHD. Participation in the program enhances social skills, communication skills and self-esteem.

Using “Junior” versions of Broadway musicals, professionally modified for young performers, The Penguin Project artists are matched with similar-aged Peer Mentors who guide and assist them through rehearsals, and join them on stage for the production.

Started in Peoria, Illinois in 2004, The Penguin Project has become a national program. Since its founding, hundreds of children have participated in and benefitted from a wide range of productions.

“The Penguin Project was founded on the principle that children with special needs can participate in and excel at community activities when given the opportunity and support. We have seen young people who had no friends, would hide when they met people, and feared interaction with others blossom into engaged and confident individuals who proudly show their talents,” said Andrew Morgan, M.D., founder of The Penguin Project.

The Community Theatre League in Williamsport became a replication site in 2016, presenting Disney’s “Aladdin, Jr.” in January 2017. This year, more than 30 young artists and additional peer mentors are working to put together Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast, Jr.” for a March 2018 production. Community Theatre League Education Coordinator Seth Sponhouse oversees the program, with Elizabeth Dixon and Timothy Hanner directing the production.

According to Sponhouse, “It’s been a great honor to bring a program of this magnitude to the Williamsport Area’s special needs community. With the implementation of this program into our lineup we have seen new families, students and community support coming into our facility and the joy on their faces when they are involved with something so meaningful as bringing arts to a student who had never found them before. Our goal is to keep expanding this program and programming like this, to bring the arts to all families.”

The Community Theatre League, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is Williamsport’s premiere community theatre. Founded in 1976 with the vision of creating a true community-driven organization focused on making, promoting and supporting the performing arts, The Community Theatre League has presented over 200 Mainstage productions. CTL regularly produces at least 10 plays or musicals throughout the year, as well as special concert events and the Sprouts children’s series. CTL holds a variety of summer camps for students of all ages, organizes the annual Ray of Light Awards for high school theatre and drama programs, and is the home of the Community Academy of Stage and Theatre.