Theater camp creates stars of all abilities

Juno Ogle
Annie Wasinger, left, director of the Center Stage Theatre Camp, helps Jason Warren sing the song "What a Wonderful World" during the camp Wednesday at Hays Community Theatre. [Photographs by JOLIE GREEN, HAYS DAILY NEWS]

HAYS — The 20 performers sat in a circle around the room Wednesday morning, ready for their first read-through of the play.

They had just gotten their scripts and learned which parts they would be playing, but with a little coaching, they breezed through the story.

Then they did it again, this time getting direction on how to stand and face the audience so their lines would be heard.

It’s not an unusual scenario for a theater production, but this one features actors who are all part of a week-long camp for people with disabilities.

The Center Stage Theatre Camp performance was Friday at Celebration Community Church.

The driving force behind the camp has been Annie Wasinger, 16, a soon-to-be junior at Thomas More Prep-Marian High School. Wasinger has been involved with Hays Community Theatre since she was 3 — her mother, Becky Wasinger, was an original member of HCT’s board of directors, and her older sisters were also involved in productions.

Theater has been a big part of her family, but there’s one person who couldn’t participate — Joel Wolcott, 34, whom Annie calls her brother.

Wolcott has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. The Wasingers have been service providers for Wolcott since before Annie was born.

In the beginning, HCT didn’t have its own building, and TMP didn’t have an elevator where rehearsals took place, so Wolcott could never be in productions.

“I always wanted Joel to do it, and he’s always wanted to do it,” Annie said. “We’ve always run lines together and he comes to all my shows.”

But when HCT opened its new theater facility at 121 E. Eighth, Annie saw possibilities beyond Wolcott just being able to attend shows. She saw the potential for him and others with disabilities to perform.

“I’ve been to the Reed Center, and I sang with them before and I knew they could it,” she said.

The Reed Developmental Center, 317 W. 13th, is a facility of Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas.

Last year, Annie chose the theater camp as a class project. She wrote grant proposals, met with the board at HCT and with officials at DSNWK, and found sponsors to provide the venues and T-shirts for the campers and volunteers.

Her mother warned her it might be tough.

“I said, ‘You’re 16 and no one’s going to take you seriously, so you’re going to have to work hard and lay it all out for people,” Becky Wasinger said.

Annie had cheerleaders for the project, especially from being involved with HCT, Becky Wasinger said, including Travis Grizzell and Cheryl Glassman.

“Partnering with Hays Community Theater was a great thing because it gives her some legitimacy, but it’s also always kind of been her home, and these are the people who brought her along,” she said.

Annie found a Michigan company, 4th Wall Backstage, that provides scripts and other materials for teaching theater to people of all abilities, and she convinced several of her friends from youth groups and drama performances at both TMP and Hays High School to volunteer to help the campers.

Erin Muirhead said working with the campers was “a blast.”

“I was a little (nervous) because it’s new to me, but it’s just so easy,” she said.

Erin and the other volunteers paired up with the campers and helped them with their lines and cues during the read-through.

“I love it,” said Trudi Mapes, who plays the evil queen in one of the plays.

Annie hopes to continue the camp each summer, either passing the direction to someone else when she graduates or returning home from college in the summers, she said