Disabilities don’t stop local actors


Students involved in the production of “Go Penguins!” worked closely with those involved in the Penguin Project to create the film.

By Melynda Lewis

DeKALB — Assistant communication professor Randy Caspersen has been working for three years on his documentary project, “Go Penguins!”, which tells the story of disabled young adults in the DeKalb community pursuing acting. The documentary will premiere 2 p.m. April 9 at the Egyptian Theatre, 135 N. Second St.

“Go Penguins!” follows the Penguin Project, a local organization that helps children and young adults with disabilities between the ages of 10 and 22 years old to gain confidence through theater. With the assistance of their peer mentors, participants rehearse to put on a musical show.

The documentary displays what it’s like behind the scenes at a Penguin Project production and includes interviews with Penguin Project staff. Caspersen is the project’s director, editor and executive producer and said he wanted to show the community how impactful the Penguin Project is for those involved.

“For most shows, you don’t want people to see all the work that goes on behind the scenes and how things started out. [People] just want to see the final product,” said Joe King, parent of a Penguin Project participant. “For [the] Penguin Project, we put on these great shows, but people have never been able to understand the incredible hard work of all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes to make that happen, to help these children and young adults with disabilities to perform so well on stage.”

During the filming of the documentary, the Penguin Project partnered with the Children’s Community Theatre in DeKalb to present a rendition of “The Little Mermaid.” Much of the behind-the-scenes footage that Caspersen and his crew shot is from this show, as they detail the experiences of the members.

Many of the shows put on by the Penguin Project are Disney-based, including “Beauty And the Beast” and “Aladdin.” To make “Go Penguins!”, Caspersen said he was inspired by the “Beauty And the Beast” production he attended when he started working at NIU.

“I really wanted to showcase [the children and young adults with disabilities] and the process of them growing,” Caspersen said. “The goal of the project was to expose that process and the community [that’s] built around it.”

The crew of “Go Penguins!” includes former and current NIU media production students whom Caspersen said worked dozens of hours on the film and grew closer to the young adults in the Penguin Project. Following the premiere, there will be a Q&A session with the crew.

“The final product is important, but the process behind it is where the real magic happens,” King said. “It’s where the friendships form between artists and mentors. It’s where they figure out how to adapt things to the artists’ needs.”