Each November, for the past four years, a group of actors has come out of the shadows and into the spotlight as they take the stage at the Kroc Center community theater in Coeur d’Alene.
Out of the Shadows Theater is not your typical theater company. The brainchild of Wendy Carroll, Out of the Shadows brings members of the community together who have special needs and creates an outlet for them to showcase their talents and abilities to a broad audience—on stage! The only theater of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, this unique nonprofit community theater company is changing theater and expanding its reach.
“Our objective is to create the opportunity for actors with special needs to finally come out from the shadows and fully experience the delight of performance art—as participants and not as audience members,” affirms Wendy, who is not only the founder of the theater company but the artistic director and producer. Her son, who has special needs, was her inspiration behind this endeavor. “When we give our actors the chance, they dig deep and find the courage and talent to overcome limitations others may have set for them. Watching someone come out of their shell and bask in the audience response is magical.”
Each actor has a “shadow” actor who stands behind or nearby to offer support and encouragement both behind the scenes and up on stage. “We are very proud to have created a passion for theater and provide the opportunity to individuals who had no means to access it,” she says.
Wendy says that the actors have fallen in love with theater—and the audience in love with them. “We have become a highly anticipated November event in Coeur d’Alene; we have a loyal audience following. I have been in theater for many years and I have never experienced anything like the audiences this theater draws,” smiles Wendy. “When an actor drops a line, you can literally feel 400 people lean forward in their seats, silently coaching, ‘You can do this!’ It’s positively heartwarming.”
Established in 2016, their first production was “Beauty and the Beast Jr.,” which sold out for both performances at The Kroc Center. The show featured 24 actors, accompanied by the same number of shadow actors. “Our actors were virtually inexperienced—some had never been in a performance theater before, let alone acted! We didn’t know how they would manage with a demanding rehearsal schedule and performances, so we settled on only two performances.”
2017 brought "Fiddler on the Roof Jr.,” followed by Mary Poppins Jr." in 2018. This year, the theater stage came alive as Out Of The Shadows presented “The Music Man Jr.” For the first time, they offered audiences six shows over two weekends, and the actors themselves couldn’t have been more thrilled!
“They (the actors) were terrific!” smiles Wendy. “They really came alive that second weekend.”
When the discussion initially came up about whether to add more performance dates to this year’s production, all quickly agreed to the idea. “When you work so hard and so intensely for two months, then hell week, then three performances and it’s all over, it’s a pretty abrupt ending,” states Wendy. With the additional weekend of performances, it allowed for the cast to have a little break and then take the stage for another three performances. Wendy said that many parents and families agreed that when all was said and done, they were some of the best performances their sons and daughters had done that second weekend!
Thirty-two actors took to the stage for “The Music Man Jr.” last month, which means 32 shadow actors as well. Though there were 33 actors for this season’s show, one unfortunately became ill and was unable to perform. Though bittersweet, Wendy says she still sat in the audience for several of the performances to show her support to her fellow cast members.
Over the years, there is so much more that goes on behind the scenes that audiences will never see. From the actor who was never without her noise cancelling headphones, even having a wig specially designed to work around them for the show. Yet she removed them for the first time (as her mother says, in five years!) as she took to the stage. Or the actor who was never without paper in her hand, who had held onto it tightly during each rehearsal. Come opening night, she set the paper down and walked out on stage. There’s the actor who has been in a wheelchair all of her life and decided she would walk onto the stage, and with hard work, determination, and a little help from a walker, she did just that! And today she can walk onto the stage with no assistance at all.
There have been love stories in the making as well! As one of the actors and her shadow actor (the two had previously met at church), wed last December. He has been her shadow actor in the last three productions.
One especially touching story is one between Wendy and one of the actors, who is nonverbal and wheelchair bound. She is able to communicate via email and does so with Wendy regularly. During one of their many conversations, Wendy recalls her saying: “‘The thing I love most about the theater is when I get to dance. When I dance I’m free.’ In her heart and mind she's dancing and singing on that stage,” Wendy says. “There are so many stories behind the scenes.”
As my 10-year-old son and I were fortunate to witness this production firsthand, it was truly amazing to see all of the support from not only family members and friends of the actors, but from the community as a whole who were in attendance. I even overheard, during intermission, two women talking about the performance, and one said to the other something similar to, “It’s like an opera. You don’t need to understand every word they’re saying to feel the emotion and understand the story.”
Wendy has truly brought something incredible to the Coeur d’Alene theater community with Out of the Shadows, and with the support of our local community, it, along with these remarkable actors, will continue to thrive for many years to come.
The 2020 performance has yet to be determined, but you can mark your calendars for the first and second weekend of November (November 6 through 8 and 13 through 15, 2020) as once again these special actors will come out of the shadows and light up the stage for what is sure to once again bring smiles, tears, joy and laughter to audience members, families and friends.
Out of the Shadows is a 501 (c) 3 and relies on grants, donations, box office sales and goodwill. All funds received are invested in the production—and it shows. “We have some of Coeur d’Alene’s and Spokane’s most talented theater folk: professional director, musical director, set designer, lighting designer, costume designer, stage manager, props mistress, choreographer, producer … who all volunteer, often year after year,” affirms Wendy. “We like to joke about how addictive OTS is.”
For those interested in participating in their next production, whether as an actor, shadow actor, stagehand and more, you can reach out to Wendy before production gets underway next summer. To find out more about Out of the Shadows Theater, you can visit OutoftheShadowsTheater.org.