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 — to be performed Friday night — features actors who are all part of a week-long camp for people with disabilities.
The Center Stage Theatre Camp performance will be at 6 p.m. Friday at Celebration Community Church. It will feature music and dance, as well as two five-minute plays and a 20-minute play, all performed by the campers.
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. Most had never worked with people with disabilities before.
Erin Muirhead, who last month starred as Ariel in HCT’s “The Little Mermaid,” 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.
“They’ve all been amazing. They’ve all connected with the individuals, so it’s been really beneficial for the campers but even more for my volunteers that they’re able to have this opportunity,” Annie 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. She’s never performed in front of people before but thinks she’ll do fine at Friday’s performance.
Jimmy Tucker and Marnie Schartz both said they had lots of fun during the week, too.
“I’ve been able to see each of them grow out of their shells. There’s a few people that would normally not do this kind of thing,” Annie said.
“She’s a natural. She has such a gift of working with people,” her mother said.
“It was a natural thing for her and something she’s always wanted to do.”
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