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Rockville Centre theater group spotlights kids with disabilities

From left, Adam Stevens, a drama therapist working

From left, Adam Stevens, a drama therapist working with the Centre Stage program at Rockville Centre's South Side High School, reveals to student Isabella Catalonotti, 18, that she would be playing a cheerleader in "South Side Glee" on Thursday, March 20, 2014. Credit: Tara Conry

When casting was announced last Thursday for South Side High School’s annual Centre Stage production, the students wasted no time getting into character.

Sean McGowan, 16, who is playing a dancer named “Beat,” dropped to the floor and started breakdancing.  Upon learning he’d play John Travolta, Andrew Koch, 16, demonstrated the actor’s signature “Saturday Night Fever” disco move, and Isabella Catalonotti, 18, cast as a cheerleader, did her best “Go! Fight! Win!” impression.

McGowan, Koch and Catalonotti are among the roughly 130 South Side students -- about 100 general education students and 30 students with disabilities -- participating in Centre Stage this year. Since October, the group has been meeting twice a week after school to work on staging a musical. That includes writing the script, choreographing, learning dances, and rehearsing lines and lyrics.

This is junior Kyra Ganci-Barnes’ third year in the program. She’s appeared in Centre Stage’s productions of “Wizard of Oz” and “Peter Pan,” and will play a vocal coach in this year’s show, “South Side Glee,” which is inspired by the hit Fox series.

“Everyone’s very friendly and it’s such a fun club,” said Ganci-Barnes, 18, of Rockville Centre.

She said she enjoys singing and dancing, and when she’s on stage, “I feel like I’m famous."

Centre Stage started in 2008 as an in-class project with only a few students, but the next year it became an after-school program open to everyone at the high school. This year, South Side Middle School is also getting in on the action. About 15 of its special education students will be performing a number in the Centre Stage shows, which will take place May 29 and May 30.

Ryan Delaney, one of three faculty advisers involved in the club, said the show has become so popular that a second show was added.

“We sold out the first night and almost sold out the second,” he said.

Last year, Adam Stevens, a drama therapist who teaches music, theatre and dance to people with disabilities, also joined the program.

“They learn so many things about self-esteem and self confidence, and they learn how to be a star,” he said.

Senior Jenn Gentile has been involved with the program since she was a freshman and is now the producer of this year’s show.

During the past four years, Gentile, 18, of Rockville Centre, said she’s been able to watch some of the special education students come out of their shells.

“Turn on the music and they’re a whole new person,” she said.


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