Theater Program to Promote Opportunities for People with Mental Disabilities

Glenelg Country School sophomore Hannah Quigley started Pals In Production (PIP), a theatre program in an effort to promote friendship and awareness between special education kids and local students. 

“[The Special Olympics] helped me realize programs like these can be influential and have a major positive impact on the participants’ lives,” Quigley says. Her goals are to give the Special Ed community more opportunities, especially with performing arts, and to combat the stigma around these illnesses by proving that people outside the disabled community can become friends with others. 

How can such a valuable program be invented by such a young student? “I remember the day I came up with the idea,” Quigley adds. “I’ve been developing the project since [June 2018], but seriously started working on it in spring 2019.” 

It took persistence to continue the project, but Quigley recognized why it was needed. She says, “I understood the value of [unique] educational experiences. It’s always been very important to me that everyone, no matter what their abilities are, has the chance to take advantage of these opportunities.” 

This perseverance to pursue her goal came from her uncle, who has down syndrome. She didn’t notice anything different about him until she read a book about disabilities and discovered similarities between the character and him. Although she knew about the condition, her knowledge regarding the accompanying stigma was limited until mid- elementary school. Since then, she has devoted her time to making sure all are included. 

As well as her uncle, a not-so-well-known figure also influences her. Quigley notes, “The founder of Special Olympics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, had to overcome numerous societal norms… to create one of the most influential programs in history.” Quigley is following in her footsteps to make another impactful program that will affect how society views these disabilities. 

Now that her project is a reality, she has discovered how much effort it takes to figure out the logistics behind these productions. “I hadn’t considered so many factors [would come into play]: how many people I would need to get on board, how difficult it is to use school facilities, and the tedious licensing process to get the rights for the musical,” she says. Connections were also an obstacle. “I had a lot of trouble getting in contact with local families for the project. I reached out to so many organizations and individuals and didn’t hear much in response.” 

She had support through many along the way, though. She wants to thank her mom, especially. “[She] really loved it and told me it could be a great experience for the students involved,” Quigley remarks. “She helped me shape it into what it is today.” Aside from family, support came from her program leader, teachers at school, and a special education teacher, who just so happened to be a family friend. A pro at teaching students with mental disabilities, that teacher helped Quigley develop her classes to be as successful as possible. “I needed to make the classes fun and informative at the same time…[and they really helped me with that].” Her first class is scheduled for mid-January and she expects classes to be filled. 

Quigley is grateful for all the support and cooperation she has gotten but that does not mean she is not anxious about starting PIP on her own. “I’m scared about the teaching aspect of the project,” Quigley says. “I want to make the musical production experience as enjoyable for the students as it is for me.” As much as PIP is an exciting theatre start-up, Quigley also desires it to be educational. “I’ve never led the rehearsal and production process,[or] direct[ed] a musical. I think it will improve my leadership skills and teach me a lot.”

As Quigley is inspired by others, she also wants PIP to leave a lasting impact on society. If you want to help Quigley address stigma surrounding disability or have any questions about her work, you can email her at palsinproduction@gmail.com. If you want to watch the project’s progress, you can follow them on Instagram at @palsinproduction. She wants wants to encourage everyone to support to other programs like hers and volunteer for any opportunities that allow you to connect with people from all walks of life.