Kent native finds joy in Friendship Theatre

The positive impact on Miles Pekema of Kent, from playing a role in the Friendship Theatre's production of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," just keeps growing. Pekema, 20, is one of 49 young adults and teens with developmental disabilities taking part in the production June 17-20 at the Knutzen Family Theatre in Federal Way. He plays a statue in one scene and a villager in other scenes

Miles Pekema

Miles Pekema

The positive impact on Miles Pekema of Kent, from playing a role in the Friendship Theatre’s production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” just keeps growing.

Pekema, 20, is one of 49 young adults and teens with developmental disabilities taking part in the production June 17-20 at the Knutzen Family Theatre in Federal Way. He plays a statue in one scene and a villager in other scenes.

“He has a very small part but it’s a great place to start,” said Miles’ mother Charmaine Pekema during a June 7 phone interview.

This is the first year Pekema has participated in the program offered through the city of Federal Way Parks and Recreation Department. He is one of more than a half dozen Kent residents involved with Friendship Theatre, which started nine years ago to provide opportunities in drama for those with developmental disabilities.

“It gives them the sense that they are somebody,” said director Sharon Boyle, who has been with the program since it started. “When they get the applause, it’s good for their self esteem.”

The productions provide plenty of entertainment for the audience, as well. Ten volunteers help out on stage to make sure everyone goes to the right place. But every role is filled by people, who like Pekema, are dealing with disabilities. They started rehearsals once a week in September and increased that practice time to twice a week by March to get ready for the big show.

“It’s a huge production with costumes, lights and the whole bit,” Boyle said.

The actors know their lines, but occasionally a production can take a twist or two.

“Sometimes it gets funny where it’s not meant to be funny,” Boyle said. “But the fact that they can pull it off is a credit to them. They do lots of lines, dances and songs.”

The social outlets can be limited for teens and young adults with developmental disabilities. When Charmaine Pekema heard about the Friendship Theatre program, she decided it might be a good fit for her son.

“It’s been a really neat experience,” Charmaine Pekema said. “He’s painfully shy to begin with. But the dynamics among the actors is pretty impressive to watch. They really encourage each other.”

Pekema said the weekly rehearsals have turned into a highlight for her son.

“He really looks forward to going each week to see his new friends,” Pekema said. “He’s a statue in one scene and he likes it because he gets to hold a sword.”

As part of his role, Miles has had to learn music and be measured for a costume.

“Those are all new experiences for him that have been real positive,” his mother said.

Pekema said she has been out at shopping malls with Miles and people she doesn’t recognize will say hello to her son. Miles then tells his mother he knows them from the play.

“He’s building a broader network of friends and his confidence is building,” Pekema said.

Miles has grown because of a theater group that started about 10 years ago with a dozen teens and young adults with developmental disabilities and now has grown to a group of more than 50 from Kent, Federal Way, Auburn, Enumclaw and other cities.

“The theater group allows a social life and that is really important and sometimes lacking in people with developmental disabilities,” Pekema said.

Boyle has watched Miles change over the last several months as well.

“He was a little shy at first,” Boyle said. “Now he gets up and does what he’s supposed to do. Drama can pull you out of a shell.”

It’s a joy each year for Boyle to watch the actors put on another fine show.

“When I started this I felt that they could do this and they can,” Boyle said.

For more information or to sign up an individual for next fall’s production rehearsals, call Boyle at 253-835-6935 or e-mail her at Boyle hasn’t decided yet, but she said next year’s production might be “Grease,” the first show performed by Friendship Theatre nine years ago.

If you go

What: “Beauty and the Beast”

When: 7 p.m. June 17-19; 2 p.m. June 20

Where: Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Road, Federal Way

Cost: $6

Tickets: 253-835-6900

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