Areya Kugler is the Director of the Stage Buddies program at Theatrikos, which is an adaptive theatre project that includes disabled and able bodied children acting together on stage. By providing accommodations and modifications, and by using assistive technology when needed, she personally hand-crafted a first-of-its-kind show for the Theatrikos’ TheatriKIDS Youth Theater Company. Areya is a longtime participant in TheatriKIDS herself, first coming up with the idea for Stage Buddies when she was only in fourth grade. Areya is now a 16 year old sophomore at Coconino High School. With the help of her parents and Theatrikos staff, she was finally able to bring her concept to life. “This is something that I’ve been dreaming about for years and it’s actually happening,” Areya said. “It’s really time-consuming but really worth it.”
Areya’s concept was inclusive and impactful for the kids involved. Every special needs actor was paired with an actor buddy to share a role in the play. Having a buddy to share the role with allowed the special needs children a chance at the spotlight while having a supportive friend to guide them through. There were four lead roles filled by special needs children with their Stage Buddy, plus about a dozen other kids to fill out the cast.
Areya experienced some setbacks with the production, but she kept moving forward and adjusted as needed to make things work. The rehearsal process was slow as everyone figured out how to work with everyone else. Some of the actors were more mobile than others, some had difficulty with speech. Lines had to be divided, computers had to be programmed. Working together, the kids found their way forward. Halfway through rehearsals, the first actor cast as Alice had to drop out. Areya found a replacement and the work continued. The kids rehearsed two hours after school every weekday in preparation for their two performances.
Theatrikos Education Director Joe Maniglia was supervising the production. “It’s so neat to see some of these kids who I’ve never seen set foot in this theater be a part of something and working together,” he said. “I see the interactions between the buddies and the actors and that’s really neat. If nothing else I feel like that’s worth it. I think we should be doing this again.”
Areya will be directing the next Stage Buddies production of The Jungle Book fall of 2016.
In her Director’s Notes to the community, she wrote:
“I have been raised in an environment where everyone is equal. From that I have gained the belief that everyone deserves an equal opportunity to try new things. So I decided to bring that concept into my true passion: theatre. I wasn’t about to sit around and wait until I was an adult to make my vision a reality, It’s been quite an experience being 15 and taking on the same tasks as people with far more experience than I have. But it’s been well worth the journey.
We chose Alice in Wonderland for our first show because it seemed like the right choice, and I know it was. The actors get to put themselves in this magical place where nothing is impossible and after being given this wonderful opportunity that’s how I feel. Although, I haven’t, yet, met any talking rabbits.”