On January 14th-16th, 2022, Griffin, and many of individuals with different abilities took to the stage to perform the Broken Arrow's inaugural Penguin Project. This first show was Seussical Jr. and included 34 artists and mentors from Broken Arrow Public Schools. In partnership with Youth Clark Theater out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Penguin Project matches mentors with students who are neurodiverse helping them perform a musical production.
Griffin has loved elephants since birth and both his mother and brother have grown up involved in theater and performing arts. At a very young age, Griffin stopped talking and was later diagnosed with Autism. In the beginning, this was something that I, and other family and friends, had to grieve and learn to live with. As the years went by not only have we learned what a blessing Griffin is, but that he is capable of the same things that his peers are. What is most important in his social development is the relationships he builds, the trust he finds in others, and the acceptance that he feels with his peers. When this happens, he is able to truly show just how brilliant he is.
Often, Griffin is more withdrawn and quiet, usually speaking up when he wants to discuss his favorite topic, Elephants! In Seussical, Griffin not only had to memorize many monologues and lines that were exchanged with the other actors, but he had multiple solos performances where he would be singing alone. As a parent of a child with special needs, there were many "I don't know if he can do that" moments throughout his years. Every caregiver has those thoughts when it comes to their child doing something out of their comfort zone. The main thing was finding programs where Griffin felt happy and passionate about what he was doing. Playing Horton the elephant was a no brainer was the perfect start to learning how to be on stage. However the fear of what it would be like in front of an audience with lights and music was still overwhelming.
In the days leading up to the show (tech week), we practiced with the rest of the penguins every evening for 3 hours. The kids were getting tired and cranky. Many had to take a night off or have extra downtime to make it through practice. I know that many of the parents were feeling the stress of the upcoming performance the same as I was.
As opening night came, the excitement was through the roof. All of our hard work was coming down to these three performances. I had no idea if Griffin would perform or if he would just walk off stage. The amazing thing was that his mentors and production team were all there to support whatever he needed. The lights went down and the curtain opened and then it was all on the kids to make the show a success. And boy did they ever!
If you would like to watch the show please check it out at the YouTube link here.
If you are interested in being a mentor or have an aspiring artist with special needs please consider being a part of the BA Penguin Project's future performance. You can find more information out at https://www.brokenarrowpac.com/penguin.
Hope to see you there!