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Special-needs performers give it their all

Special-needs theater company to perform this weekend

The Laughing Feet Performers, the only special-needs theater group in the Midwest will be performing this Saturday and Sunday at the Mary Jane Teall Theatre at Century II. Their executive producer Jenny Mitchell talks about the program. (Video by
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The Laughing Feet Performers, the only special-needs theater group in the Midwest will be performing this Saturday and Sunday at the Mary Jane Teall Theatre at Century II. Their executive producer Jenny Mitchell talks about the program. (Video by

If your theater thing is sheer joy (and perfection-be-darned), check out Laughing Feet this weekend.

Nobody on- or off-stage at their performances loses interest when dancers don’t quite hit their marks. Nobody blinks when a performer with a speech impediment tells a joke, or sings a wildly enthusiastic but not-quite-on-key solo of Three Doors Down’s “Kryptonite,” complete with air guitar and air drums.

Nobody minds when stage performances include dancers maneuvering wheelchairs or walkers. They cheer.

Laughing Feet Performers are special-needs people (and their not-so-disabled friends) who will run onto the stage at Century II this weekend as though they own the place. Their rehearsals get noisy and come complete with yells and rippling laughter.

“We train them as though they are professional actors,” said Jenny Mitchell, the group’s director and chief boss lady. “It’s all a joy to watch, but what I really love is to watch their parents watch the performances.”

It’s all a joy to watch.

Jenny Mitchell, Laughing Feet performers director

They will do two performances of a super-hero-themed variety show, “Laughter League: Fighting Injustice One Joke at a Time,” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Mary Jane Teall Theater at Century II.

Besides joy, the point of it is to thrill audiences while teaching special-needs performers to dash out there and give it their all like any more “typical” performer would do. Spotlights, stage fright, directors yelling, adrenaline rushes, set designers furiously dragging new stuff out on stage, performers flubbing and then improvising lines – those things are part of the show, as they would be if no one had any limitation.

“Typicals” are performers in Laughing Feet who don’t have disabilities. About one-third of the 74 current Laughing Feet performers are typicals, who sing and dance and act, and sometimes help a kid whose hands don’t move right to adjust his glasses. Or they bring a singer back on cue to the next verse.

Nobody judges you in Laughing Feet.

Lilliana Sanderson, 12, Laughing Feet performer

“Nobody judges you in Laughing Feet,” said Lilliana Sanderson, a 12-year-old “typical” performer from Colwich. “And so you are free.”

Free, no matter if you have cerebral palsy, or autism or Down syndrome, or your hands don’t work well, or you use a wheelchair or walker.

“It makes me happy – a lot,” said Rendi Rodriguez, 27, a performer.

“I really, really like singing,” said Sam Felkins, 22, a performer with a smile big enough to light up a stage. “And dancing. I really, really like dancing. A lot.”

“For Josie, performing here has been a dream come true,” said Judy Nowak, a mother of two performers, daughter Josie, 21, and granddaughter Tara, age 10.

“But what this does goes way beyond that,” Nowak said. “Josie suffered a brain injury at age 3; performing has made her move better, given her more muscle tone. And it’s made her so happy.”

All this is free, she pointed out. Performers who sign up pay nothing; Laughing Feet subsists on donations and performance ticket sales.

Mitchell “is a miracle worker,” Nowak said.

Most of the “typicals” who sing and dance along with the special-needs performers are volunteers, usually with no theater or music background, Mitchell said. They joined up because they want to help people.

Sanderson, the 12-year-old “typical” mentioned earlier, said the rehearsals and performances do wonders, not only for the special-needs performers but for typicals.

“I joined because I love helping the disabled,” she said. “But doing this made me feel better about everything. I was sad a lot before. I was made fun of at school because I’m hyper.

“Doing this makes me happy and helps me realize: I am fine.”

Roy Wenzl: 316-268-6219, @roywenzl

Laughing Feet

What: A variety stage show, “Laughter League: Fighting Injustice One Joke at a Time”

When: 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Mary Jane Teall Theater, Century II, 225 W. Douglas

How much: $10

More information: laughingfeet.org

Coming up: The AXIS Dance Company, a professional dance company that pairs typical dancers with dancers with disabilities, will perform at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6, at Mary Jane Teall Theater, Century II, 225 W. Douglas. For more information, go to www.AXISDance.org.

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