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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

NIU’s Penguin Players take center stage

Emily Beebe
Members of Penguin Players rehearse their show “Everything’s Groovy” during practice on Tuesday. Penguin Players is a group that provides adults with disabilities the opportunity to perform a musical. (Emily Beebe | Northern Star)

DeKALB – NIU’s Penguin Players is a group that provides adults with disabilities the chance to perform a musical. The adults with disabilities are paired up with NIU students who act as mentors. Next semester will mark Penguin Players’ 10th year at NIU.

The mentors are on stage during the show to assist as needed, but the primary focus is on the adults with disabilities. Student mentors work with them throughout the semester to learn the songs, dances and lines. 

Joe King, NIU’s associate director of communications, is the co-founder of the club along with his wife Barbara King.

Joe King said Penguin Players at NIU was created to provide an outlet for adults with disabilities who love musical theater and is based on a similar program called Penguin Project.

“But we realized as our son that was one of the artists reached the age of 22, which is when after that you aged out of the program, we realized that we were going to have a lot of people like him that suddenly found a love for theater and didn’t have an outlet for it,” Joe King said.

Penguin Players also has a creative team for students to be part of. The creative team consists of acting directors, choreographers and music directors. The acting directors, choreographers and music directors help ensure the show runs smoothly and teach the artists and mentors their blocking, songs and dances, among other show aspects.

Joe King said he’s tried working with other programs to try and get students to join.

“We tried to draw our music directors from the music education program. We tried to draw our choreographers from the theater and dance program, and we’re trying to make some inroads into theater to see if we get some theater students’ interest,” Joe King said.

Alicia Arocho, a senior special education major and the current director for Penguin Players, said her favorite part is seeing how everything comes together for the performance.

“I would say my favorite part is honestly at the end of the semester, seeing how everything has come together,” Arocho said. “It’s (the show) always all over the place throughout the entire semester because we don’t follow along with what music is doing, what dance is doing and what acting is doing all at once because that would be overwhelming for a lot of the actors in the show.”

Kaylin Lee, a senior music education major and the head music director for Penguin Players, said Penguin Players provides an opportunity for individuals with disabilities to show their talents.

“I believe that Penguin impacts the students because instead of looking at people with disabilities and just writing them off right away, they are allowing them an opportunity to show what they’re capable of,” Lee said. “And I think that is rewarding in itself to see their capabilities and they’re not just labeled by their disability that they are human, and they have talents and they’re all very special people in their own individual ways.”

Claudie Ramon, a junior elementary education major and one of Penguin Players’ choreographers, said it’s important to set everyone up for success.

“We create all the dances and all the formations for those dances,” Ramon said. “And just make sure that everyone’s being given a dance that matches their mobility and it’s something that they can do and we’re setting everyone up for success.”

Joe King said Penguin Players can have a lasting impact both on the community and NIU students.

“We’ve had people tell us, ‘I was this close to transferring to another school, I was this close to just dropping out altogether, but because of Penguin (Players) I’m planning on sticking around and doing as many shows as I can until I graduate’. So that’s the kind of impact that we have on the community,” Joe King said. 

Joe King said he’s grateful Penguin Players is able to provide the opportunity for adults with disabilities to express themselves.

“There just aren’t that many opportunities out there for adults with disabilities to do things and there’s Special Olympics and there’s a couple of other things but there’s nothing else like this that gives people an artistic outlet, right? So we’re happy to be able to provide that in the community for adults with disabilities,” Joe King said.

Penguin Players is searching for NIU students to join as mentors for the 2024-2025 academic year. Students do not need any theater experience to be involved with Penguin Players, and Penguin Players is open to students of any major. Practices occur from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in Gabel Hall, Room 126.

Students can get involved by contacting [email protected], and can follow Penguin Players on Instagram to stay up-to-date on information.

Penguin Players will host their show “Everything’s Groovy” at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday in the Cavan Auditorium in Gabel Hall Room 126. Penguin Players will host their dress rehearsal at 7 p.m. Friday for NIU students to attend.

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