Archive for Thursday, September 27, 2007

Show highlights disability issues

September 27, 2007


Lawrence High School senior Andrew Connolly, who plays the role of country music star Garth Brooks, plays air guitar during rehearsal of "The Jellybean Conspiracy" at LHS. The play has a strong message about including individuals with disabilities in everyday life. Connolly has an onstage sidekick with developmental disabilities who plays the role of a Brooks admirer.

Lawrence High School senior Andrew Connolly, who plays the role of country music star Garth Brooks, plays air guitar during rehearsal of "The Jellybean Conspiracy" at LHS. The play has a strong message about including individuals with disabilities in everyday life. Connolly has an onstage sidekick with developmental disabilities who plays the role of a Brooks admirer.

Three Questions with ... Charlie Goolsby, Lawrence High School drama teacher

The play's director Charlie Goolsby, a Lawrence High School drama teacher, talks about the play and its grant funding. Enlarge video

'Jelly Beans' to take center stage with important message

Jelly Beans will take center stage next week at Lawrence High School. 6News reporter George Diepenbrock explains why the drama production is meant to help celebrate rather than stigmatize everyone's differences. Enlarge video

Lawrence High School students are using their stage to break an unnecessary stigma.

"Even though somebody is different, it doesn't mean that they can't succeed in a way that exceeds expectations," said Charlie Goolsby, an LHS drama teacher.

He's talking about "The Jellybean Conspiracy," a play with a message of including those with disabilities in daily life. The first half of the play is like a variety show, where anyone - whether they have a disability or not - can participate by reading a poem, singing or playing an instrument.

The show's second half is an award-winning play written by Linda Daugherty, the current playwright-in-residence for the Dallas Children's Theatre. It's the story of a girl who comes to grips with the fact that her brother has autism, Goolsby said.

The script was originally written with the brother having Down syndrome. Because LHS staff had in mind student John Hathaway, who has autism, for the part, they were able to get the changes written into the script and approved by Daugherty and producer Howard Martin, a University of Kansas City-Missouri theater professor.

"This falls right into (Hathaway's) interests and abilities, and also it gives him some positive contacts with his peers and gives him a chance to showcase some things to the community," said Deb Engstrom, an LHS special education teacher.

The cast members have warmed up to Hathaway as well during the weeks of rehearsal.

"I think every day, we see a little bit more of the payoff coming," Goolsby said.

Martin is executive director of "The Jellybean Conspiracy," which uses the examples of jelly beans of varying shapes, colors and flavors to showcase differences in people but "every one of them is good," Goolsby said.

"The conspiracy part of the show is that we're letting everybody else in on the secrets of the jelly beans, which are those differences that we all have," he said.

Other special education students have roles.

"Everybody is just like one another, and we all are different individually in our own special ways but in good ways," said Laura Williams, an LHS senior, who plays the aunt of the featured brother and sister.

And junior Carina Fowler, who plays Hathaway's sister, says the show has the potential to educate the audience.

"I guess I hope that they realize that disabilities aren't necessarily 'dis-a-bilities.' Everyone has something to share," she said.

The show is grant-funded and coordinated by Accessible Arts Inc. in the Kansas City area. Show times will be 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4 and Oct. 6 at the school's auditorium, 1901 La. An afternoon show Oct. 5 will have several junior high school students in attendance. Tickets can be purchased at the door.

Community event

In addition to the play "The Jellybean Conspiracy" Oct. 4 through Oct. 6 at Lawrence High School, Accessible Arts Inc. is sponsoring "Families with a Beat!" with "Bongo" Barry Bernstein, who uses world music and rhythm to get audience participation. Hand percussion instruments are provided.

A free dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 8 in the LHS cafeteria, 1901 La., but reservations are required. Admission for the 7:30 p.m. event is also free. For reservations call (785) 330-2151.


benjaminlox 10 years, 8 months ago

The red lyon is overpriced anyways. The only people that go there are yuppies who want to pay more for drinks just so they have a place where anal retentive people can be amongst themselves and pretend to be happy with thier superficial lifes.

Ill be at the game thank you.

Leela 10 years, 8 months ago

What do Hathaway's parents have to say about this? To me, it seems like Charles Goolsby could possibly be publicly humiliating this student. To change a script because you happen to have a student that is mentally disabled that can fill the role seems wrong. Don't get me wrong, I believe that it is great to get more people involved in theatre (I'm a theatre major myself and know what it's like), but this could end badly. Also, the script was originally written to be about Down Syndrome, something that is completely different from Autism. How can the script have the same strong message when one of the most important things has been changed? I have personally seen how one family copes with Autism and how another copes with Down Syndrome and while they are both coping, they are nothing alike. This is not the first time Charles Goolsby has manipulated a script to his liking. As part of a class last year at KU, the students were to go out and watch a performance outside of the KU theatre. Being an alumni of good old LHS I decided to see how the theatre department was doing. They were performing "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged" (a comedy, poking fun at Shakespeare's greatest works.) The script was originally written for three actors and is performed that way professionally (it adds to the comedy.) I was horrified to see the performance done with a cast of close to thirty! Couldn't Goolsby have chosen a script that was intended for a larger cast? Also, while I understand that it is high school theatre, the performance from the actors was rather junior high-ish. What has happened to the LHS theatre department?! They used to do such meaningful plays (Laramie Project, for example.) I guess the audience will just have to hope that someday LHS theatre will build itself back up to the reputation it once had.

Leela 10 years, 8 months ago

Believe me...a friend of mine in the LHS theatre department has some horror stories about how Goolsby runs things or should I say he doesn't run things.

Eric Neuteboom 10 years, 8 months ago


I think you've completely missed the point about the show. I believe (I haven't read it) the message is tolerance for those who are different from the "norm," whatever that may be. I find it ironic that you appear so intolerant of the changes made to incorporate the student with autism. I don't think the particular disease/affliction is the focal point, but rather how people deal with, learn from, accept and recognize the individual with the disability.

I'm also stunned by your criticism of his showing of "Shakespeare, abridged." College theater is a competitive endeavor, one where you compete for and rightfully earn roles, and you can expect a smaller cast with more defined roles. High School theater, on the other hand, is supposed to foster, develop and cultivate the theatrical spirit in those who may be teetering between participating or not. I don't see anything wrong with him including that many students. A cast of three for a high school show would be ridiculous, and would not serve a purpose beyond those three actors.

Leela 10 years, 8 months ago

Coach- I agree that the script is about tolerance, however I think that Hathaway was approaced by Goolsby because of his condition. I don't know if that was the case, but if it was that is really low. It is one thing for a child with disabilities to participate on their own accord, but to be "hand-picked" for a role because of a condition is wrong. For example, the autistic boy on the basketball team that scored 20 points. The kid, under his own will, went out for the team, he wasn't coaxed into it. I have spoken with Goolsby before and asked what motivates him to pick the plays he does and while he says that it's to get more people involved, he also says so that he can fill more seats. His logic--more people in plays means more people come and watch which means more money. I do agree with you on what high school theatre is all about, but to take a three person show and turn it into a thirty person show is ridiculous. There are plenty of plays out there scripted for large casts, why couldn't he have chosen one of those. I'm all for creative license, but come on! he went a little too far with it when performing "Shakespeare, Abridged."

Leela 10 years, 8 months ago

The script was originally written with the brother having Down syndrome. Because LHS staff had in mind student John Hathaway, who has autism, for the part, they were able to get the changes written into the script and approved by Daugherty and producer Howard Martin, a University of Kansas City-Missouri theater professor.

The way this is worded make me believe that it was a "hand-picked" sort of deal.

coolmom 10 years, 8 months ago

i think that the changes were a good thing. maybe they didnt have someone with down syndrome to play the part? kids with autism should be picked and encouraged to do things that cause them to interact with their peers. my son had down syndrome but i work with kids of all kinds of abilities and autism is on the rise and a big worry now days why not show case it? this is high school isnt theatre about getting attention? making a statement? or getting people talking? is this a personal vendetta?

Hilary Morton 10 years, 8 months ago


I too, am an alum of LHS theater, back in the serious glory days when there was only one high school. The program has seen several people come and go, and Goolsby has the best intentions for the program. Schools are not set up the same way now as they once were. The major emphasis has changed, and that shakes the whole high school experience that was different when you or I attended LHS.

I have definitely thought about this in other contexts. For example, a director decides to do "Big River". 'Ooops! We need a big black guy! Let's go find someone!', or take little people, for example. Santa's helper in BAD SANTA surely was sought out, among talent agents for little people. If I direct ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S nest, I need a very tall kid with dark complexion to play Chief Bromden.

I hear your frustrations, but it's the nature of life. I do know that Charles spread asked para-professionals, special education staff members, as well as other staff members to get the word out that he was looking for exceptional kids for this place. I don't think it's so wrong. This boy has autism; it's no secret. This is a wonderful opportunity to teach kids inclusion, as with tests, and AYP, they don't work with these students as much as we did. That is definitely a shame.

Leela 10 years, 8 months ago

Just so you know, the kid in the blue shirt is not the one with autism.

Haiku_Cuckoo 10 years, 8 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Leela 10 years, 8 months ago

Coolmom They wouldn't need a person with Down Syndrome to play the part. Two years ago when they did "Flowers for Algernon," the main character in the play was mentally handicapped. The director, Kim O'Brien, cast a person who was not mentally handicapped. So you don't necessarily need a person with the disability playing the role. What I believe happened in this case (and if you look at the article, supports my idea), is that they picked the play and after reading it knew that there was a kid in the school with a disability that could fill the disability role. The kid they had in mind (Hathaway) didn't have Down Syndrome, but had Autism so they changed the role to suit Hathaway. I guess to put this bluntly is that Goolsby didn't change the role to suit the kid, he changed the role so that he could use the kid. If I am wrong, and the kid went out for the play, and Goolsby changed the role AFTER the kid auditioned then I say way to go Hathaway! That would be what the play is all about, people with disabilities leading normal lives. I do agree that high school theatre is about getting the issues out there, but I think they went about this the wrong way.

Hilary~ I think you by far are the one that closest understands what I'm getting at. I guess I'm mostly concerned about how they reached their decision about casting Hathaway. How much of a choice did the boy have in being in the play? The article makes it sound like he was the only choice for the role. Did others with disabilities audition? I would hate to think this, and I hope I'm wrong, but did Goolsby cast Hathaway, hoping that the fact that they were using an autistic boy to play a boy with disabilities would bring in more revenue?

I am a strong supporter of getting everyone involved, disabled or not, and I applaud Hathaway for being in the show.

Leela 10 years, 8 months ago

Haiku_Cuckoo You have got me all wrong. I think it is great that a person with a disability is doing something as normal as being in a play (if theatre is even considered normal...laughs). However, I don't want this boy being paraded around because he has a disability.

Deb Engstrom 10 years, 8 months ago

I am the person who selected John for the part. I have seen the play several times in several different locations and each one is different. It was written for a person with a disability (Down Syndrome) to play the lead. It cannot be done any other way and we had to get special permission to use a person with Autism. Last spring when we were discussing the possibility of putting on this play this fall, I approached John and 2 other students to see if they would be interested. John, was very much interested and so he was cast and the script adjusted accordingly. If you have other questions about this process, please email me at Charles Goolsby had absolutely nothing to do with selecting John and is doing a marvelous job of directing this show. We'd love to have all of you who have concerns in the audience at one of the performances.


Leela 10 years, 8 months ago

Thank you for adding the last piece to the puzzle, Deb. The way the article worded the situation made it seem less voluntary on John's part. I hope the play does well, and I wish the cast and crew, especially John, a "break a leg."

sonflower 9 years, 3 months ago

Well, thanks for your own support in the Jelly Bean conspiracy, I believe in my theory that all people should have been "Mainstreamed" (termnology in the 1990's or better known as "inclusion".

and what did my parents say about this? well, they were impressed and thought I did and Excellent job, even teachers and staff memebers who worked with me.

and thirdly, Disabled people shouldn't be allowed to mingle with normal folk. This is especially important in maintaining the artistic integrity of a school play. That is incorrect, I think that all people with disabilities shall not be turned away regardless of who they are and where they are going in life,and they can be in plays if they wanted to. Look at Joni Eareckson-Tada, she is in a power wheelchair due to an diving accident in 1967 and can manage her own company in California with little assistance. and to the rest of you thanks for your support! --John

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