Film highlights diversity | Professor’s project featured on campus

By Morgan Fink

DeKALB — After learning of a local organization that puts individuals with disabilities in the spotlight, an NIU professor was inspired to film an award-winning documentary which was featured during a Diversity Dialogue Wednesday.

“Go Penguins!”, which was shown at the Carl Sandburg Auditorium, features the creation of a Broadway-style show featuring a cast of children and young adults with disabilities. The film was created to illustrate how the arts can help individuals see others for their abilities rather than their limitations, according to the Office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’s website.

The Penguin Project was established in 2004 as a program in which children with disabilities work with peer mentors and are able to be center stage in well-known musicals.

Communications assistant professor Randy Caspersen directed the film, which was released in April, and won an award for “best documentary” at the Los Angeles Diversity Film Festival. Caspersen said he found inspiration for the film when he heard Joe King, NIU spokesperson and local Penguin Project representative, discuss their production of “Beauty and the Beast” on the local radio.

“He was talking about how these kids with various disabilities go on stage, and by the end of the five months of rehearsal, the individuals were different,” Caspersen said. “Their confidence changed, and the show was able to touch people. I thought since I was here in DeKalb looking for a project, it might be something I want to follow. I wanted to see a story about the transformations these individuals go through.”

King and his wife Barbara King brought the Penguin Project to DeKalb from where it was founded in Peoria. Their son Daniel King took part in productions the project performed.

“In that film, it was Daniel’s last show, and after being off stage five minutes after the last show, he turned to me and my wife and asked what he was going to get to do now,” King said during the event.

Following the screening of the film was a Q-and-A session featuring Caspersen and King in which members of the audience asked questions regarding the film and The Penguin Project.

“I think the film was great,” said senior communication major Tyler Anton. “It gave me a different outlook on people with disabilities. It was interesting.”