Special needs theater maintains tradition

Christina Rossetti, Photo Editor

Over the last 24 years, Adult Special Needs Drama Teacher Christine Gronhe has been working at LT during the night hours, coming up with new ideas for a performance each year. This year, her team decided to put on “Beauty and the Beast” for the LT community in mid November.

“We have great success with Disney plays because they offer a Junior version of their show- which usually has more minor roles included, more choruses, and they’re shorter,” Grohne said. “Our actors know all the Disney stories so that’s a huge plus right there.”

Gronhe first started this project as dedication to her mother, who first started this project with two other women who wanted to allow more options for Adults with special needs.

“Twenty-five years ago there really weren’t acting troupes for special needs, much less one actually housed in a high school,” Grohne said. “We are unique in that, which is why we have always been so grateful to LT. They allow our stars to shine. I have grown up in the theatre and that is why creating this unique class which is a legacy from my mother has been a joy to teach.”

When Gronhes mother died last year, she dedicated her time to the theater program.

“My mom, Arlene Rehak, and two other moms approached Dr. Larry Bond who was head of the Adult Education Department at the time,” Grohne said. “He took the chance and allowed our mothers to create a curriculum for school graduates and other young people with special needs who lived in our community. The need for continuing education classes was apparent and so cooking, finance, reading, yoga and drama at one time were offered.”

The 24 actors in the play ranged from 18-50 years of age. This year, Barb Cerkanowicz played the part of Belle.

“When I found out I was playing Belle, it felt as if it was a dream come true,” Cerkanowicz said. “I heard my name called, and when I heard my part, I cried happy tears because I always had a dream that I would one day play the part of Belle, and now that day was finally here.”

Cerkanowicz, along with Rob Incerto, former LT graduate Doug Toops and the rest of the cast, prepared for a long time for this production, Gronhe said.

“I decided to start performing when my mom told me I had it in me,” Toops, who played Lumiere, said. “Once I finished my first play, I realized I loved it and wanted to continue, and now here I am many years later still performing.”

The play was held on Nov. 18-19 in the South Campus Performing Arts Center, with a special performance of “Be our Guest” which seems to rival the New York City Rockettes, Gronhe said.

“When I see our actors on stage so full of pride, and the audience crying their eyes out- and they will, it’s unstoppable,” Grohne said. “Then I know I’ve done my job.”