Out of the Shadows Theater has been in operation for five years in the Coeur d’Alene/Spokane area. Yet, many have not heard about this fantastic theatrical company. Founded by Wendy Carroll, they opened as a theater company for adults with disabilities. Thus far, they have performed four annual shows and are currently in production for “Bye Bye Birdie, Young Performers Edition,” which will be on stage at the Kroc Center Theater at the end of October.

Out of the Shadows Theater
Out of the Shadows Theater provides actors an authentic theater including professional sets, props, lighting, directing, music, a playbill with professional headshots, and archival photos for their portfolios. Photo courtesy: Out of the Shadows Theater

Wendy Carroll, an actress and producer, started Out of the Shadows Theater after realizing her son, who is disabled, didn’t have the same opportunities to perform. The theater performed its first show, Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” in 2016 in front of two sold-out audiences. They began with 24 eager yet inexperienced actors and have grown to 34 actors in their current production.

Out of the Shadows Theater, a presentation of Celebrate Incorporated, a 501(c)3 non-profit, is governed by a working board of five volunteers, including Spokane locals President/Director Jamie Sciarrio and founder Wendy Carroll. Suzanne Knutson joined the team in 2019 and became a board member in 2021, taking on her role as fundraising and marketing director.

Out of the Shadows Team

Suzanne started her journey with Out of the Shadows Theater as a shadow actor. She discovered while the theater is well known in the disability community, however, it is not so well known amongst those who do not directly know someone with a disability. Her goal is to get the word out and fill the theater seats to capacity. “Out of the Shadows Theater is a great place for adults with disabilities to realize their gifts, talents, and abilities, and for the community to recognize these amazing individuals for these capabilities,” she says. “We have a great opportunity to spotlight our talented actors and help educate our community.” They wrote many grants this year, joined the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce, and are getting the word out via posters, postcards, interviews, social media, and have even started a blog. They need more community sponsors, partners and volunteers.

Out of the Shadows Theater
If you’re a lover of the arts and can think of a way you could help Out of the Shadows Theater, they’re looking for costumes, props, shadows, volunteers, donations, and more. They’re always wanting to expand their team with lasting partnerships, so get in touch to let them know how you’d like to assist. Photo courtesy: Out of the Shadows Theater

“We have had amazing production team members, crew, and actors every year, for every production, and this year is no exception,” Suzanne said. Out of the Shadows Theater, while in Coeur d’Alene, has several people on their production team and actors and shadows from all over the area, including Spokane, Deer Park, Athol, and Sandpoint. Costumer Mary Basta and choreographer Grace Basta, both of Deer Park, are essential team members. Mary’s son, Logan, is an actor, while her daughter Rebekah is a “shadow.”

Behind the Scenes: How Does it Work?

Based on a similar model used by Detour Company Theater in Arizona, according to Suzanne, only about a dozen theater companies work with actors with disabilities in America. Detour Theater uses “coaches” to work with their actors, and Out of the Shadows Theater refers to them as “shadows.”

They showcase the abilities of actors. Just like a regular audition, all actors audition with a song, movement, and scene reading. All who audition are cast in the production, some as leads and others as an ensemble.  Most actors use microphones, and sometimes the music is slowed to accommodate needs. “Some actors are non-verbal, so they work intensively on gestures and physical acting rather than vocal acting,” says Suzanne. “So much of acting is how you put your character’s emotions out there with body language, hand gestures, and facial expressions.”

Out of the Shadows Theater
While not required, sometimes a mentor relationship develops and continues past the production. Shadows have helped give actors rides to rehearsals, the bank, shopping, or set up hangout sessions and activities to engage with their on-stage counterparts. “Ideally, we want actors to grow on their own, eventually leaving their shadows to cross over into other theater productions if they want,” says Suzanne.

Shadow actors are one of the most critical positions within the productions. They assist and support the actors throughout their rehearsal process and onto the stage. They’re like a coach — a supporter, encourager and most importantly, a friend. Shadows assist actors in learning song lyrics, memorizing lines, stage-blocking and choreography. Come showtime, if actors need help while on the stage, shadows “stay in the shadows and out of the spotlight” and assist as needed. If an actor forgets a line or a cue, the shadow is there to calmly say, “Get ready. Our song is coming up.” Shadows do not have speaking roles and are not microphoned but help prompt when necessary and sing during ensemble numbers to round out the sound.

Shadows sometimes push wheelchairs and assist with hair and makeup. Being a shadow is a front-row seat in watching actors blossom. “Shadows don’t know the scale of their value to the actors and the production,” confirmed Suzanne. “It’s the most special thing I’ve ever done — to support the dream of another person in this way. It’s huge! It’s so meaningful. As our actors become more experienced, they will become more independent and not need the same type of shadowing. We are all learning, together, to benefit everyone involved.”

Do you have a passion for helping people and being part of the arts community? Out of the Shadows Theater welcomes more volunteer shadows to get involved. They have had to increase their actor to shadow ratio and still have actors that could use more assistance. No experience is required — training and support are available. Most on the current production team don’t have any professional training — they just have the heart to help and make new friends. “We have a really nice community here that’s available to everyone — you can be as involved as you want,” said Suzanne. They also need volunteers for ticket-taking, ushering, set-painting.

Making Dreams Come to Life

Out of the Shadows Theater
Some actors aspire for more theater opportunities, and their experience with OTS leads to getting work with modeling, acting, and talent agencies. Photo courtesy: Out of the Shadows Theater

We don’t always realize the perspective of others and what they value. A lot of the actors identify with the movie “The Greatest Showman” and the songs “This Is Me” and “A Million Dreams.” All the hard work is worth it when actors comment, “Being part of Out of the Shadows Theater group has helped me achieve some of my million dreams.” We all have the innate ability to change people’s lives forever and help them achieve their highest imaginings. OTS performers use Facebook to communicate, and one actor mentioned that she valued “her dog and her drama group” more than a million dollars.

“It takes a lot of people working really hard for months to pull this off. The actors’ enthusiasm, courage and hard work along with the community’s support, encouragement, and positive feedback make it so worth it,” Suzanne stated. “It’s been a fun and exciting ride. I’m still shadowing an actress, Kate, who is 27 and uses a wheelchair. Her dream is to be an actress, and I love that I can support her dream. I want Kate to have the same opportunities that other young people have.”

Catch the Performance of a Lifetime

Out of the Shadows Theater puts on one production per year. They have five showings of “Bye Bye Birdie” planned for this year – October 29 and 30 at 7:30 p.m. and a Sunday Matinee on October 31 at 2 p.m. The other two showings are on November 4 and 5 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for this year’s performance are on sale now.

Come January, OTS hopes to start monthly workshops to continue education around theater arts, including acting, stage makeup, fine arts, stage design, and visual arts. They will be looking for sponsors and volunteers to help with these workshops also.

Sponsors of Out of the Shadows Theater

Out of the Shadows Theater is thankful for its amazing sponsors, Hecla Mining, 3C’s, and STCU, to name a few. They are always searching for new partnerships in the community.

Jamie Morgan, from the Small Business Development Center and The Bicycle Collective, has significantly assisted in figuring out new marketing strategies. Duncan Menzies of Drawn Together Arts and the Art Spirit Gallery coach actors and encourage board members with fundraising ideas. The board members of Aspire Theater and Spokane Civic Theater have helped with information on many aspects of production, and North Idaho College, Coeur d’Alene Summer Theater, and Theater Arts Center at the Lake are providing some props, sets, and costumes for the upcoming show.

The Show Must Go On

Out of the Shadows Theater
“It’s hard work, and it’s a good kind of ‘hard.’ You’re in it, and things are falling apart, you take a break, then we all come back together with the audience and people working in it, and it just makes sense. People get it,” said Suzanne. “We’re all operating with a different set of tools, and so are the actors.” Photo courtesy: Out of the Shadows Theater

“We all have abilities and dreams, plans and goals, but there were definitely some kinks with COVID. Some of our past production teams were not available, so we welcomed new members. We have had some smaller rehearsals, with our entire cast coming together just once per week. We are working with smaller groups and spacing people out as much as possible,” said Suzanne.

In August, Out of the Shadows Theater talked about postponing the show but realized their actors’ mental, psychological, and social health was very important. After the shutdown of 2020, the actors were ready to get back on stage. “If things like this disappear, it’s devastating for the disability community and the community at large,” noted Suzanne.

This year, the theater company has a new accompanist, musical director, choreographer and stage manager that are all phenomenal. They didn’t know the challenges they would face, but like most people who jump in, they realize the scale of what they’re receiving back. “Our new accompanist said, ‘I didn’t know how much I needed this — the music, the theater, and the purity that comes from this group.’ He is a great addition to our team,” says Suzanne.

“Just like we don’t ask about disability, we don’t ask about vaccine status or medical history. All our actors are adults, and we respect them and treat them as adults. We spend extra time talking about healthy choices and practices and trust them to stay home if they are not feeling well, but we felt it was important to move forward with the production. We have masks and sanitization stations available and trust participants to do what is comfortable for them. While we realize we need to be responsible, we also need to live life courageously. Our actors and shadows get on a stage and perform — that can be scary, but they do it.  We understand that life can be scary, too,” stated Suzanne. “We take risks every day. We get in our cars. We eat at salad bars. We need to be bold. The show must go on. We hope you’ll come out and see our show.”

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