A very special troupe of actors with and without disabilities thrilled audiences recently with their magnificent production of "Aladdin Jr." at the Rahway High School Center for Performing Arts June 29, June 30 and July 1. More than 700 people attended the three performances.
The CAU Community Players is a troupe of individuals with developmental disabilities and actors and actresses from the broader community. Formed in 2012 by nonprofit Community Access Unlimited, the troupe allows CAU members to engage in the pleasures of acting, singing and dancing with people from the wider community and to be judged for their talents rather than disabilities.
CAU is a statewide nonprofit providing support programs and services to adults with disabilities as well as youth served under the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to enable them to live independently in the community, providing supports in areas including housing, vocational skills and life-skills training, education, advocacy and recreation.
Each year the CAU Community Players stage a production that is representative of CAU's message of inclusion, acceptance and believing in oneself, as well as everyone's worth regardless of disability. Based on the Disney movie, which itself was based on the folk tale of the same name, "Aladdin Jr." is the story of a street urchin, a princess and a genie all overcoming their respective obstacles to escape the traps of their lives and achieve their fullest potential and happiness.
This is the CAU Community Players' seventh production. This year's musical featured a cast of more than 70 actors, a mixture of CAU members with disabilities and actors without disabilities from throughout Union County and beyond.
James Smith, a CAU member, starred as the Genie after playing smaller parts in previous years.
"This was a personal role," he said. "Genie is a character I always wanted to play as a kid. I'm really thankful for this. I was thrilled to show everyone what I can do."
Edwardo Droz is a CAU member who uses a wheelchair, which has not stopped him from performing in the productions each year. This year he was able to show off his dexterity with his wheelchair as a character in the Cave of Wonder.
"I like everything about being in these performances – the actors, the staff, everyone," he said. "I really enjoy being on stage."
James McArthur, a returning member of the troupe from the wider community who also has autism, starred as Aladdin and sang the song, "Proud of Your Boy."
"This is my first starring role in any production," he said. "I'm feeling things I never felt before. To be in a show of this caliber, there are such high expectations but it's so rewarding. I wanted to sing this song because I wanted to say to my parents, 'I want you to be proud of me.'"
Tattyanna Morales-Vega from Linden and her four younger sisters all had roles in the production. Morales-Vega said she learned a lot from being in a mixed troupe of actors.
"It gave me a new perspective," she said. "People think people with disabilities are challenged but I see they have a great perspective on life. They can achieve more than the average person in life."
Marguerite Modero, the director of the CAU Community Players known to her troupe as "Mrs. Mo," said, "It's exciting to see how members who have had small ensemble parts have risen to starring roles. It shows if you believe in them, they will flourish."
Jensyn Modero, Marguerite Modero's daughter-in-law, the show's choreographer and a performing arts teacher at Rahway High School, said having the CAU Community Players perform at the Rahway High School Center for Performing Arts was very meaningful.
"It was a very unique opportunity," she said. "I was proud that both organizations were open to seeking new partnerships within the county, because the Rahway High School Center for Performing Arts is all about bringing in more people from the community and CAU's mission is all about community integration."
Funding for Aladdin has been made possible in part by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, through a grant administered by the Union County Office of Cultural & Heritage Affairs.
About Community Access Unlimited
Community Access Unlimited (CAU), celebrating its 38th year in 2017, supports people with special needs in achieving real lives in the community. CAU provides support and gives voice to adults and youth who traditionally have little support and no voice in society. CAU helps people with housing, life skills, employment, money management, socialization and civic activities. CAU also supports opportunities for advocacy through training in assertiveness, decision-making and civil right. CAU currently serves more than 6,000 individuals and families, with the number served growing each year. For more information about CAU and its services, contact us by phone at 908.354.3040, online at www.caunj.org or by mail at 80 West Grand Street, Elizabeth, NJ 07202.