SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Augustana University is partnering with LifeScape and the Black Hills Playhouse to present “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the school’s first all-abilities production.
Augustana theater students, along with 20 disabled individuals with LifeScape, Augie Access and in the community have been working for months to bring inclusive, all-abilities show to the stage.
“I wanted our students to have the opportunity to experience what you would in a traditional high school or community theater setting and still have the support that we provide,” LifeScape Center for the Arts Artistic Director Jamie Richardson said.
An all-abilities production adapts the show to accommodate for the abilities of the cast and audience, including sign language interpreters, closed captioning visible to everyone and an accessible stage for individuals with mobility impairments.
“If you go to a Broadway show or an opera, they will closed caption it, but it’s way up high in a different line of sight,” Richardson said. “I want to see who’s talking, I wanted everything in one line of sight so I can see the words that are supporting that actor.”
Richardson added that they can accommodate for an actor’s unique abilities. For example, during last summer’s week-long theater camp, Camp Bravo, a woman recorded her solo and had it play alongside her during her performance.
“She sang with herself and it just gave her a boost of confidence. It wasn’t like it was a recorded track, she was just supporting herself,” Richardson said. “It’s really about honoring everybody’s mode of communication and making a place for it within our cast and on our stage.”
LifeScape has been putting on productions by people with disabilities since 2014, but this will be their first full-scale production since the pandemic.
While LifeScape has used Augustana’s theater space for productions in the past, “Rudolph” is the first show where Augustana theater actors are involved. Dan Workman, the show’s director and a theater professor at the university, said it was important to him that the Augustana actors were on board with the all-abilities show.
“The students were very open-minded about coming into this process of doing something different in theater,” Workman said. “It is a different process. It is a different attitude going in, because it is a different product that is coming out.”
Magdalene Eberle is a senior theater major at Augustana. She’s been involved with multiple Augie projects, but this is her first all-abilities show. Eberle said the new process was different, but she loved getting to know and work with the people supported by LifeScape.
“The most meaningful and rewarding thing about it is collaborating with the LifeScape people in the cast and getting to know them and seeing how creative and kind and just so, so wonderful,” she said.
Niel Peltier is also a senior at Augustana. He said his favorite part about working with an all-abilities cast was the passion and excitement all the actors had.
“They’re all so excited to be a part of this show and they’re all just having so much fun with it,” Peltier said. “That energy and that passion for it is really infectious. I think we’re all just having a great time with each other.”
“Rudolph’s” opening night on Thursday, Nov. 16, was sold out and so is Saturday’s matinee performance. Tickets are still available for Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 19 at 2:30 p.m.
Sunday’s matinee performance will be an autism and sensory friendly production. Long shows where people are required to sit down and stay quiet can be difficult for autistic people, Richardson said.
Sunday’s show will have less loud sound effects and harsh lighting, as well as a bag with a shortened script so people know where they are at in the show and fidget toys. Richardson said there will be interactive elements to the show every 3-5 minutes where the audience can interact with the actors.
“I see their excitement and their nerves and I see them come off the stage and they’re dancing backstage and cheering for themselves because they did it, they made it through,” Richardson said. “The look of relief and excitement and pride that comes with doing something like this, no matter the ability, that is what I get to see in its rawest form.”