By Pat Smith
---- — “Everyone deserves a shining moment. Ours was a dandy.” So said Jeff Kuehl about the Front and Center Players of Decatur County.
They certainly didn’t disappoint anyone in the audience of this year’s variety show. The performers’ joy was contagious. The story in the Daily News covered it all but Ginny Garvey and I were so impressed a few more words won’t hurt.
Over the years you’ve probably seen Jeff Kuehl play James Whitcomb Riley or Carl Fisher or in one of the roles he’s played on the stage but did you ever see a variety show that he has directed? When Ginny and I saw Jeff at the Chautauqua he told us about directing the Arc of Decatur County Variety Show to be held at the First Baptist Church the following Monday. We decided to attend because we’d both heard that this group was doing great things to support individuals with some hurdles to overcome in order to achieve goals and lead productive lives.
It’s a dynamic group of parents and family members, the Arc of Decatur County, the staff of DSI, friends and the performers. In fact, the program manager of DSI’s Decatur County Day Program Jennie Maddux recently received the Cathleen Clark Professional Service Award at the Arc of Indiana which is a non-profit organization that gives support and information to those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.
Jeff said, “Anyone who takes on the job of directing a variety show knows that there are always barriers to overcome. There are several challenges. Not everyone makes it to rehearsal. Sometimes performers aren’t ready for rehearsal or are not in the mood to put it all together. You could tell that we had many ideas, because the show had so many pieces.”
He said he always tries to take the ideas offered by the group and make them work. We rarely say, ‘no that won’t work’, instead we say ‘okay let’s all try it.’” If an idea gets dropped, it’s because the person who had the idea didn’t stick with it.
“So much of what I did was put together thoughts and ideas. I had to give the cast members ownership of the process.” He said they all basically wrote the church scene. They didn’t worry about getting the lines exactly right. They focused on telling the story with their bodies and actions. There were people singing, gossiping, eating and sleeping in church. “That’s exactly what the cast said they see when they go to worship,” he said.
He said that if a member is rather non-verbal his job was to Guide them with the confidence to perform. “That was the core part of my job.” From what I saw of the cast, they definitely took ownership of the process. Jeff said they start with what they know. If someone dances well or sings well, they make sure those are the foundations of the performance. All the of other pieces, the Woody Woodpecker and the burping sock puppet where things that other cast members helped shape into the success that it was.
He said he treated the performers like he would any other group of actors. Everyone was given a set of expectations and they delivered. He wanted the cast to take a jump away from what they normally do and be expressive. “I told them it was okay burp, shake their hips and eat potato chips in church. ‘We are doing theater...that’s allowed.’”
He said he is grateful to Lynda Smith and the folks from ARC of Decatur County for giving him the opportunity to work with this talented group. “One of my favorite parts of the evening was sitting with the cast backstage eating sandwiches and talking about everyday things like TV shows, sports and family pets. There was no disability among the ensemble that night. They all stepped up their performances for that one shining moment. Everyone deserves a shining moment. ‘Ours was a dandy.’”
This is a busy group. In the past they have helped the Decatur County Special Olympics by holding a rummage sale and the DSI Annual Gala that gives a tremendous helping hand to individuals with developmental disabilities in Decatur County. The Arc of Decatur County provided the funding for the show, much of it thanks to a grant from Psi Iota Sorority. Arc members also helped with the show. You can learn more about the group on their website www.thearcofdecaturcounty.