In 1998, Greece Athena High School produced the musical Grease, with proceeds going to School of the Holy Childhood, a school for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, to help pay for a new gymnasium floor. Students from the school attended every performance. One young man, however, was standing and dancing as he sang the closing song with energy and a look of great joy. As he was leaving with his mother, the parent of an Athena cast member told the young man’s mother what a beautiful voice her son had and that he should also be onstage. Her eyes swelled with tears as she said, “Unfortunately, no one wants my son onstage.”
Our research showed that this young man’s mother was correct. Music theater programs for individuals with developmental, physical, or intellectual disabilities were limited, selective, and modest at best, and no real professional-quality production of a musical was available in which they could participate. Further research showed that establishing such a program would be an immense challenge. No one had undertaken a project of this nature in the U.S. and there was no one to whom we could look for help, advice, or experience.
In November 2002, the first effort was launched to offer individuals with developmental, physical, or intellectual disabilities the opportunity to perform in a musical production. With the rallying cry of, “There is no such word as ‘can’t,’ ” we produced three sold-out performances of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, only to stage three more performances a few months later! In our annual productions since then, the program has continued to provide many individuals with a place to demonstrate their talents. We have seen our performers’ confidence soar, passions emerge, and anticipation grow for our next show. In addition, our productions foster the development of unique and lasting friendships between all participants on and off the stage. This program has allowed the Rochester community to embrace the gifts and talents of these individuals as they demonstrate what they can achieve.
In 2007, Artists Unlimited, Inc. was formed, incorporated, applied for and obtained not-for-profit 501(c)(3) status. The newly formed corporation, with its Board of Directors, took over the production and day by day responsibilities of the organization. The newly formed organization went on to produce shows such as Wizard of Oz, Cinderella, Disney’s High School Musical, Willie Wonka, Mary Poppins, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid. We will mark our 18th year in November 2019 with our production of Shrek The Musical.
Since 2009 we also have offered “Voices”, an annual summer vocal concert. It has grown to be a choir of more than 100 performers.
Our performers do not pay to participate. Production costs – which include renting performance and rehearsal venues, as well as the cost of building sets and making costumes -- are covered by generous contributions from Rochester area businesses and individuals. We depend heavily on volunteers who work behind the scenes to support our talented performers. We plan to continue to move forward into the future with new shows and even some new programs. Please continue to visit our site for updates of our upcoming performances and events!