Matthew Schwab has never been shy.
The 16-year-old has no reservations about performing on stage or singing in front of a crowd. .
“I love getting to interact with the other actors,” Matthew said. “I’m excited to perform to the best of my ability and show that I can act.”
Schwab, a sophomore at Holly Springs High School, has Down syndrome. He takes part in the Holly Springs Civitan Club’s Together on Center Stage, a program geared toward people with special needs.
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“Matthew gets to do something he’s very good at and feels good about,” said his mother, Michelle Schwab.
Together on Center Stage has put on four productions since it began two years ago. The ages of the actors have ranged from 6 to 66.
For its upcoming show, “The Colors of Awareness, The Power of A Friend/The No Bully Zone,” the program is looking for people with special needs or people who have experienced bullying.
The show, set to premier in October at the Holly Springs Cultural Center, is part of Mayor Dick Sears’ anti-bullying campaign. Sears formed a committee to look for ways to combat bullying.
Part of the proceeds from the Together on Center Stage production will go toward programs to prevent bullying in schools and in the community.
Director Alan Rosen said the anti-bullying message of the play is important, because sometimes bullying is swept under the rug.
“It’s a problem,” Rosen said. “People don’t complain because they are afraid.”
Participants will write the script, add music, create costumes and set pieces, and perform the play.
“Individuals of all abilities shine up on stage,” Rosen said. “They have the opportunity to have something they can call their own.”
Rosen, 57, helped start the program in Holly Springs. Before he moved to Cary, he was a teacher for children with special needs in New Jersey.
There, Rosen started a program called ClubArtsOnStage. He wrote and composed “Through Our Eyes,” a musical that told stories of people with special needs from their own perspective. It was performed at the United Nations and the National Down Syndrome Society’s Buddy Walk in New York City.
Rosen received an award in New Jersey in 2009 for his efforts to help those with special needs achieve their dreams.
“Music and theater are great for everyone,” Rosen said. “It gives people a chance to express themselves.”
‘Everyone is different’
Kathryn Candore’s daughter, Sara, participates in Together on Center Stage.
Sara, 23, is autistic. Candore said it can be tough to find programs that cater to young adults with special needs, but the theater program has helped Sara gain confidence.
“She used to have terrible stage fright,” Candore said. “But now she feels very confident, and looks forward to doing all the shows.”
Sara, who performed in her high school chorus for a year, loves to sing and dance. Candore said the program allows Sara to do what she loves, without feeling pressure to be perfect.
“Everyone is different,” Candore said. “There’s no teasing or bullying. It’s a creatively and positively charged environment.”
Michelle Schwab said her son can be himself on stage. When Matthew walks out from behind the curtain, he’s not just a teen with Down syndrome: He’s Matthew Schwab, actor extraordinaire.
“It’s great that people can see him doing something he loves,” Schwab said.