Spartan Spotlighters take audiences ‘Over the Rainbow’ with remarkable performance


Mallory Carslake

The inaugural Spartan Spotlighters production came to a close on April 30 to much acclaim. They performed “The Wizard of Oz”, and featured disabled students between seventh and 12th grades.

Jae Jepsen , Copy Editor

On April 29, the Spartan Spotlighters took the final bow of their inaugural show, and did it to a standing ovation. The house was packed with actors’ loved ones and other visitors alike, and the sense of joy within the room was palpable. When the lights last came down on The Wizard of Oz, one thing became apparent to all in attendance: the program was an enormous success.

The Spotlighters program is an initiative founded by PV Drama to include special needs students in theatrical productions. Each artist was paired with a mentor, who could assist them both within rehearsals and onstage. 

While the mentor/mentee system was designed based on practicality, their connections weren’t entirely logistical. The relationships went beyond what was expected, blooming into beautiful friendships that extended outside of the program’s bounds. 

Junior Lynsey Stevenson played Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West in the show, but the relationships she made were the most valuable part of the experience for her. “I think my favorite aspect was just getting to meet new people and form connections with people that we see in the halls everyday, but would never go out of our way to say ‘Hi,’” explained Stevenson, who had never really interacted with her mentor before, “Once we started spotlighters I really got to know her and see how fun and so sweet she is. [We] still talk after [the program ended].”

In order to make the show possible, the creative team had to find innovative ways to modify the original script. Stevenson, for example, uses a wheelchair, but this provided no obstacle. Rather than using a full bike for her scenes as Miss Gulch, one was cut in half to fit the front of her wheelchair. 

Another challenge was presented in the form of “Jitterbug,” which is typically the most high energy dance number of the show. During the number, evil jitterbugs force Dorothy and her friends to dance until they drop to the ground. To avoid an excess of dance for artists, director Christina Myatt elected to have mentors dance around and with actors, creating movement and interest on the stage without overwhelming performers.

Perhaps most clever of all were the accommodations made for senior Ethan Ramsdell, who played the Scarecrow and has limited speaking abilities. Ramsdell used a speaking device to deliver his lines, and his mentor, senior Braeden Jackson, sang on his behalf. Ramsdell’s incredible gesticulation conveyed the emotion behind each and every one of his lines, even without a voice to say them. 

For Ramsdell, the experience was every bit as rewarding as he had hoped it would be. “[I was happy that Spotlighters was organized with the purpose of] letting kids like me shine,” explained Ramsdell. He offered a simple piece of advice for anyone interested in the program: “Be [a part of] the crew!”

Perhaps most infectious of all was the absolute delight radiating from each artist onstage. During each crowd reaction, it became clear that not only was the crowd thrilled, but actors were as well. The instant gratification of audience applause created a tangible reaction, amplifying the already outstanding energy onstage. 

Stevenson believes that the program has the potential to change how others look at special needs students. “It changes people’s perceptions of people with disabilities and how we can be just as good as the regular theater,” she noted.

In the moments after each performance, actors and mentors gathered outside the theatre together to bask in their success and joy. As they were greeted by their family and friends, a full picture emerged of the community that had formed, and the true remarkability came to fruition: the most spectacular part of the Spartan Spotlighters program is the program itself. 

It’s rare to see such a thoughtfully executed initiative with such an emphasis put on the performers. The adjustments made, special care given and genuine fondness between mentors and artists makes it clear that this isn’t a project meant to capture attention for its creators, but a celebration of special needs students and their extraordinary abilities. And while they certainly put on an excellent show, there was nothing performative about it.