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Sister act takes the stage for inclusive Shrek show

Flagstaff Team

Family affair… (from left) Anna (14), Amber (16) and their father Mark Stevenson

Two Hauraki sisters are loving playing their parts in a theatre production that is breaking boundaries and encouraging performers of all abilities to shine.

Takapuna Grammar Year 10 student Anna Stevenson, aged 14, and older sister Amber, 16, who attends the school’s special education unit, have been rehearsing hard for Shrek the Musical, to be staged at the Rose Centre this weekend.

Their father, Mark Stevenson, says it is great to have both the girls involved, rather than heading in opposite directions with their activities.

“What this allows is everyone to be on the stage as equals.”

The show, staged by the Glass Ceiling Arts Collective, features an inclusive cast, aged 12 to 19. A leading role, Princess Fiona, is played by Albany teenager Lily-Mae Ivatt-Oakley. “This is a first to New Zealand in that the young lady has Downs,” says collective co-founder Mike Eaglesome of Devonport.

“I’m a Mama bear,” Amber tells the Flagstaff, explaining that her part includes learning lines and dancing and singing.

Anna is the show’s storyteller and also helps encourage other cast members. The sisters enjoy working together with Amber saying that Anna is an “amazing actor.” Anna is equally proud of Amber.

“I started helping with special-needs students a few years ago, when Amber got asked to do Madagascar,” Anna says. That show, put on by Touch Compass Dance Company, connected a number of families in the disability communities, with the company’s former creative director, Charlotte Nightingale, going on to be Glass Ceiling’s other co-founder.

Eaglesome said the pair, who both have children with disabilities, saw a need for youth-oriented musical theatre that catered for everyone.

Stevenson said while home was a safe space where everyone was treated the same, it was not always the case in the wider world for those with a disability, or their siblings. “Amber is often the smallest person at the back of the stage.”

Conversely, Anna could at times be sidelined as well, with Amber often a focus of attention because she stood out.

The collective’s approach was more even-handed, said Stevenson. “That’s what this group does – it just puts everyone together.”

He noted that “the kids just get it”, compared with how some adults in the wider community might react.

Like many of the parents involved, Mark and Marie-Therese Stevenson are helping both backstage and front of house.

Anna says one aspect she likes about working on the show is that the “equality line goes all the way through to the adults”.

Even among friends, some looked at her sister differently, “All they see is a disability, they don’t see Amber.” The collective allowed individuals to all play a valued part.

It is an approach Eaglesome is keen to expand on, making the company a safe home for the rainbow community as well.

He is applying for funding to support its growth and is buoyed that cabinet minister- Carmel Sepuloni, who holds both the Arts and Disability Issues portfolios, had agreed to attend a gala opening performance with her family tonight, 9 March.

The North Shore-centred collective was set up as a charity early last year and has ambitions to expand its model nationwide, with rainbow community youth to be involved.

Members began workshopping Peter Pan, but Covid-19 uncertainties ended performance plans last April.

The licence to stage the show expired, so the young adults chose to perform Shrek instead. A Christmas variety show was staged to keep up momentum, before work on Shrek began in earnest this year.

Shrek the Musical will be staged for the public four times over two days on 10 and 11 April. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children, and are available at the Rose Centre, or http://glassceilingartscollective.com/

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