Participants take ‘Center Stage’ tonight

BY CAITLIN LEIKER

Photos by Lisa Pickering

After four days of preparation, Center Stage Theatre will host its showcase at 6:30 p.m. today (Aug. 5) at Celebration Community Church.

This year, 35 campers and 10 volunteers will perform a one-act play, “The Sunburst Talent Search,” written by director Annie Wasinger. The script centers on the Celebrity Impersonation Convention in Orlando, Fla., where famous characters like Elvis and Garth Brooks are brought to life by the local talent in the sun-soaked state.

“I had a really great time writing this script, and I focused on building upon things I already knew my campers loved to do and discuss,” Wasinger said. “In a lot of ways, this script was a gift for those campers who have been waiting to play a specific role since our first camp in 2019.”

According to Wasinger, the cast will also “be donning our wolf and pigs costumes again to revitalize one of our favorite scripts,” a skit of “The Three Little Pigs.” As per camp tradition, the program will conclude with a rendition of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

This year, a Center Stage memorial video will be shown to honor beloved campers Sarah Schultz and Michael Leiker, who recently passed away.

Wasinger will soon be a sophomore at Wichita State University, double-majoring in political science and English, with minors in sociology, ASL and Honors: Law and Public Policy Track.

She has been performing in productions since she was 3 years old. Acting became a way to define her identity for herself and others through the “lenses” of different characters.

“I think I’ve always struggled with other people’s perceptions of me,” Wasinger said. “I never really felt like people saw me for who I was. But when you act, you’re able to give everyone around you the exact lens you want them to view you with.”

Offstage, Wasinger’s family played a role in shaping her beliefs in representation and accessibility. Before she was born, her parents became the limited license providers for Joel Wolcott, who has cerebral palsy. As she grew up, the two always shared a sibling-like bond. Wasinger’s desire to make theatre more inclusive led her to found Center Stage Theatre, in which Wolcott is an active member. The camp started as a creative spark in the summer of 2018, but the idea was first met with pushback.

“I was disheartened, but I decided to continue pursuing my goal in the hopes that Joel and I would finally get to perform together,” Wasinger said. “It took a full year to begin making community connections, collaborate with other nonprofits, finalize camp content and recruit performers. Last year, we transitioned to our own content, so we now write our own scripts as well.”

Wasinger believes the importance of Center Stage Theatre relates back to how everyone wants to control how others perceive them — a feeling amplified by individuals with disabilities.

“Oftentimes, society has a constructed view of disability, and most people come with a prepared lens to view all disabilities through – this really propels ableism,” Wasinger said. “Being seen for who you are, on your own terms, is my entire reason for acting. And (it’s) the gift I hope to give all of my campers.”

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