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Sunday, December 15, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Friendship stars in lead role

GU students’ outreach program puts group home residents on stage

Jeff Rogers wears his bear costume and waits for his turn on stage Thursday  at Gonzaga University while rehearsing for “The Jungle Book.” The Specialized Recreation program at GU works with adults with developmental disabilities  to put on theater productions.  (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON / The Spokesman-Review)
Jeff Rogers wears his bear costume and waits for his turn on stage Thursday at Gonzaga University while rehearsing for “The Jungle Book.” The Specialized Recreation program at GU works with adults with developmental disabilities to put on theater productions. (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON / The Spokesman-Review)

Watching students from Gonzaga University practice lines with developmentally disabled adults won’t solve the world’s problems.

The economy was still tanking after play rehearsal this week. Winter was still coming. If your candidate lost the election, the other guy was still in.

But it was hard to conclude that the world’s going to hell when folks from group homes all over Spokane were so obviously delighted by the attention and respect provided by the college students. It was hard to feel jaded around students who seemed sincere when they said that they get a bigger kick from working with disadvantaged adults than from watching the Zags crush another basketball opponent.

“I’ve made 30 great friends,” said Jessica Jacobson, a GU freshman.

“I love everything about it,” said Jeff Rogers, who is 43 and will play Baloo the bear during performances of “The Jungle Book” on Sunday and Monday.

Twice-a-year plays – typically Disney cartoons adapted for stage by the students – are part of the GU Specialized Recreation program, which also coordinates Special Olympics events.

About 35 students are involved in the upcoming performances, some of them dressing as shadows to help the actors find their places on stage and remember their lines.

Alyssa Martin, who rehearsed in green for her role as the treacherous snake Kaa, was previously a flounder in “The Little Mermaid” and Tinker Bell in “Peter Pan.” She flitted around the rehearsal room Wednesday passing out hugs as though they were Christmas gifts.

“I’m not scared” to be onstage, said Martin, 19, who smiled broadly when she saw the simple props for the scene in which her character tries to hypnotize Mowgli, the man-cub played by 30-year-old Orran Silvia.

Mike Butcher, 55, said he watched “Planet of the Apes” to nail his role. He and the other monkeys have costumes of T-shirts with locks of reddish hair dangling from the armpits.

Lon Manson, a senior who plans to go to medical school, said of all his GU experiences, working on the plays has been the best.

“Being a science major, study pretty much rules my life – other than Wednesdays and Thursdays,” he said, just before rehearsal began.

Later, things got hectic in the little room with the tiny stage where rehearsals take place.

The elephants were marching and the monkeys were aping. The wolves let loose with a chorus of howls, their way of saying “cheese” for a photographer.

And everywhere, everyone was talking, listening, laughing, teasing.

Rehearsal went on. But it seemed to be secondary to everything else.

Dan Hansen can be reached at (509) 459-3938 or danh@spokesman.com.

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