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‘Blow them away:’ Forsyth County special education students star in upcoming production of Annie Jr. at FoCAL Center
Annie Jr.
Angela Clark, playing Orphan Annie, sits in between two mentors during a rehearsal for Annie Jr., the first Penguin Project production in Forsyth County running March 24-27. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

Forsyth County special education students are excited to show off their star-quality talent in the community with their upcoming production of “Annie Jr.” on the Forsyth County Arts and Learning Center stage.

Running from March 24-27, “Annie Jr.” is brought to the stage through the Penguin Project, a program that casts productions with actors and artists with special needs.

While the actors are paired with typical peers and mentors, this production gives students with special needs the reins to be the star of the show and show off their musical talent in the community for the first time.

Lambert High School student Angela Clark will star in the production as Orphan Annie alongside Forsyth Central student Carter Martin playing as Daddy Warbucks. They both said they are incredibly excited to get the show started and sing and dance their hearts away for the audience.

“I like singing and dancing,” Angela said. “That’s my favorite.”

Carter said even just rehearsing for the production the last few months “has been awesome” as he has made more friends and gotten to take part in what he loves most — musicals.

“I am a musical person to a fault,” Carter said, explaining that his favorite musical of all time is “Mama Mia.”

Parents of the cast members have been even more excited to see their students up on the stage as part of this first Penguin Project production since FoCAL’s opening in December.

Kelly Fields, Carter’s mom and a special education teacher, said the Penguin Project is an “incredible program” that FoCAL Director Dawn Phipps spearheaded and specifically sought out for Forsyth students, “and it’s exactly what the mission of this place is — to continue education in a different format from the four walls of the classroom on a stage.”

Fields and Nori Clark, Angela’s mom, both agreed that they would never be able to find opportunities like this for their kids anywhere else in the community where they can take part in engaging and fun activities outside of the classroom.

“Specifically with this project, our kids would never have this opportunity in their local base schools,” Fields said. “They might try and maybe they might be on the tech team or whatever, but our kids are the leads. That would never happen.”

Taking part in rehearsals, Fields and Clark said FoCAL Center staff and leadership have pushed their kids and taught them everything they would need to know to take on the stage. But these onstage lessons have given them a confidence and skill set they can take with them anywhere.

Not only are they learning and making new friends, but they said their kids are having an amazing time working on this production. As soon as they walk into the center for rehearsal, Carter and Angela both immediately run up to the stage to get started.

“Just like other people, our kids have dreams,” Nori said. “This is my daughter’s dream.”

Fields admitted that when they began rehearsals, she and the other parents were a little worried. They had no idea how their kids would be able to learn the lines, choreography, blocking and songs for an entire musical production.

But now, just a couple of weeks out from the show, they watch them do it all during rehearsals. They were shocked by what all their children could do in a short amount of time.

More than anything, they are excited for the community to see it all, too.

“This show will blow them away,” Nori said. “Because we were blown away.”

Fields said this show will give their kids an opportunity to show the community what exactly they are capable of, an opportunity they, unfortunately, don’t receive often.

West Forsyth High School students Elizabeth Brown and Sean Wilson help with the production as cast members’ mentors, and they agree that it is important for community members to come out to support Penguin Project productions.

Wilson and Brown said many often don’t get to see the lives of those with special needs. While typical students are featured on social media and in the local news for success in athletics, going off to college and other areas, they said special education students never receive that same type of attention for their talents.

“I think it’s great for the community to see that these kids are just as talented as the rest of us in the county,” Brown said.

Clark and Fields agreed with this, saying this production could also open up more opportunities for their kids in the community. They hope that others will see their kids and think, “If they can do that, they can work in my store,” or help in other ways.

“I hope the community loves it just as much as we do so that we can maybe get more funding for next year and do it again,” Brown said.

Ticket for the show are on sale at www.thefocalcenter.com.

The production will be held on the FoCAL Center’s main stage located at 1150 Dahlonega Highway in Cumming behind the Forsyth County Board of Education building.

Annie Jr.