Penguin Project Returns for 2023

Penguin Project

Penguin Project

When the Penguin Project of Peoria takes the stage at Eastlight Theatre on Friday, January 13 with their production of Footloose the Musical, it will be their 17th annual production (they didn’t have a show in 2021 due to COVID). It will feature 52 cast members, 28 of which are children with special needs and 24 peer mentors who guide and support the artists throughout the rehearsals and performances which began in September.

Pengiun Project - Director Dr. Andrew Morgan

Dr. Andy Morgan, who began the Penguin Project in 2004 with his wife, Kathy, said,  “The most important part of it is fun and friends.”    He continued, “The real goal is the camaraderie because of the relationship between the artists and mentors. The kids get together beyond rehearsals at school and in the community because of the bond they’ve formed.”

His goal is for the process to be life changing for all who participate.  Now that it’s been running for nearly 2 decades, many of the mentors who have been involved have chosen careers as a result of their involvement including several physical therapists and even one medical doctor like Dr. Andy is (he is retired as Professor Emeritus of Clinical Pediatrics and the former Head of the Division of Child Development at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria and has been the primary medical specialist in central Illinois involved in the diagnosis and treatment of children with disabilities for over 35 years.)

Morgan’s experience with community theatre for many years (along with wife Kathy) was the inspiration to combine his passion for theatre with his professional work with children with disabilities to give them an opportunity that they wouldn’t have otherwise to be a part of a cast and perform in front of an audience.

“The Penguin Project exposes mentors to kids who have special needs to help them better understand what they are facing and my hope is that they take that experience and as they reach adulthood, become leaders who advocate for these kids,” Morgan said.  “We want this to become really mainstream so companies will hire people with special needs. Some businesses have taken the lead and done this. We hope this will be more of a grass roots thing,”  he continued.

The program originated in the Peoria area but has now expanded to 54 programs like it in other markets in 22 states across the United States.

“We think of ourselves as a family,” Morgan said.   Mentors say that the Penguin Project has become a very special part of their lives.   Many families with one special needs child who is in the cast will have another sibling who is participating as a mentor.   At least a third of the kids in the program have a sibling who is also involved.

Penguin Project 2023 - FootlooseMusic director, Kim Holdham has been involved since the 2005 and works with other music team members Katie Fitch and Lynn Seitzman.  Long-time local community theatre choreographer, Danny Fisher, began as choreographer with last year’s show and is also involved this year along with Kathy Morgan who has worked with choreography for the shows since the beginning.  Assistant director Molly Sloter became involved when her husband, Jeff, who had been assistant director from the beginning, passed away in 2020.  Rachel White is also an assistant director.

Performances will take place on the Eastlight Theatre stage Friday & Saturday, January 13 and 14 at 7:30 pm and on Sunday, January 15 at 2 pm.  Tickets are $12 and are available at the box office at 309-699-7469 or online at  For more information about the Penguin Project, visit

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