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Special Players Take the Stage

Thu, 09/22/2022 - 09:26
Members of the East End Special Players, including, from left, Nakowa Weeks, Lynn Fletcher, Joanna Pizzo, and Lillian Havens, rehearsed a dramatic reading from a Charlie Mackesy book, “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse.”
Christine Sampson

Rebeccah Jansson is excited to show off an original song she wrote, titled “My Driving Test.” Tim Motika is going to get up onstage and play his guitar, and Phebe Rogers and Jon Paul Gaudet will display their ballroom dancing skills. Betsy Weinberger is looking forward to speaking her lines as a character named “Miss Tipsy” in a theatrical scene from an original play.

This will all happen Saturday on the outdoor stage at the Southampton Arts Center as members of the East End Special Players’ Explorers Program present their first interactive public festival, the Create Fair, from 2 to 3:30 p.m.

East End Special Players is a group of adults with special needs and varying abilities who in 1985 began gathering to put on plays under the direction of Helen Rudman. The Explorers group was formed in 2014 to bring them together for weekly cooking and art classes, field trips, and other creative activities that they might not have access to otherwise.

Theatrical performances are only part of the fun lined up for Saturday’s family-friendly event. There will also be a photography project, drumming, painting, food, mural drawing, and more — all based on skills and activities that the Explorers have been, well, exploring.

This will be the first time since the beginning of the pandemic that the group will perform publicly, offering a sneak peek of their new play, “Turtles on the Tarmac,” which will be performed in full at Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater later this year. There will also be a dramatic reading of “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse” by the British author and illustrator Charlie Mackesy.

“The goal is to bring community awareness, and also to have the Explorers group and the East End Special Players have a great time,” said Jacqui Leader, who directs the program. “I’m very proud of both groups,” she added later. “Through Covid, we have persevered. . . . They have all risen to the occasion.”

There are now 23 members in the program, which receives grant money to operate. The Explorers offshoot has 10 to 14 members. Not everyone speaks lines in the shows, but all members are encouraged to give it a try. The goal, the organization says, is to provide “joyous social gatherings, creative learning projects for people who have few such opportunities, and, for the public, a window into the lives, personalities, and talents of all participants.”

A past show, “You Are a Petunia in My Garden,” was an expression of “what they do and feel and wish for as adults with varied needs, abilities, and skills,” according to the Players’ website. In 2020, under the guidance of Patricia Maurides, an artist, the group published “Seeing Happiness,” a book of original photographs of places that bring joy to members.

Ms. Weinberger, who lives in Medford, has been with the Players since its inception. The group was very supportive, she said, when her husband, Tom, died five years ago. “It’s like a family.”

The Players also celebrate birthdays and other special occasions, having lots of fun together year round.

During a rehearsal on Saturday, there was an enthusiastic energy in the room as the Players and Explorers smiled, cheered, and clapped for each other. Some spoke their lines independently, while others needed a bit of help with their cues from the other adults in the room, including Ms. Leader and several staff members, Eric Hegi, Samantha Ruddock, Stephanie Auranomo, and Anita Mannix.

Ms. Jansson, who has her own YouTube channel as D.J. Rebeccah, said that normally she is shy in public, but the Explorers program “brings out the true me.”

“It’s awesome. It’s a blessing,” Ms. Jansson said. “We have a great crew here.”

Those who would like to learn more or get involved with the group can visit its website, eastendspecialplayers.org.

“The creativity of the Explorers and Players never ceases to amaze,” Chris Siefert, who chairs the board of the East End Special Players, said in a statement. “We invite everyone to stop by and enjoy the talents of these remarkable artists.”


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