BY JOHN CARTER JR & JESS KIRCHHOFF
Tomorrow night, patrons have the opportunity to watch participants of the Center Stage Theatre Camp grace the stage and showcase their acting abilities. Hays native and event organizer Annie Wasinger is the founder of Center Stage Theatre Camp, which held its first community-wide performance in August of 2019.
Wasinger was inspired to start the camp after the Hays Community Theatre installed handicap-accessible bathrooms as well as a ramp in 2018.
“I have performed with HCT since I was three, and prior to the installation of the accessible bathrooms and ramp, a very important member of my family was unable to attend my performances. My brother Joel has cerebral palsy, and due to inaccessible venues it was often hard for him to attend and participate in theatre with the rest of our family,” Wasinger said. “When the new bathrooms went in, I was excited for him to attend my performances. After reflecting, I realized if he could attend the performances then he could also perform with me. I wanted him to experience the thrill of being onstage.”
Wasinger admits that creating a theatre camp specifically for people with disabilities would be hard, especially when she was only 16 at the time. However, she also didn’t want that community to miss out.
“I also felt that the benefits of theatre are limitless and they shouldn’t be limited to people based on ability,” Wasinger said. “Oftentimes people intentionally look away from those with disabilities.”
Wasinger said that although driven leaders from organizations like the Arc, HRC, and DSNWK continue to provide incredible integrated activities for those in our community with intellectual and developmental disabilities, prior to Center Stage Theatre Camp, there was not a theatrical option for individuals with disabilities.
According to Wasinger, her favorite part of the process is watching her campers experience everything. She says that oftentimes people intentionally look away from those with disabilities, and ableism is ingrained into the very fabric of our society, but the camp allows an option for the attendees to be seen.
“When my campers perform, there is no looking away. They get to experience being seen, noticed, adored, and celebrated,” Wasinger said. “When actors perform, they are at their most vulnerable. They put themselves on the line to entertain others. Watching my campers be their authentic selves and have the community truly see them is the most incredible part of this program.”
The Center Stage Theater Camp performance will take place at 6 p.m. tomorrow night at Celebration Community Church. More information can be found on the group’s Facebook page.