Inclusion Theater Project Allows Everyone to Take the Stage

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A South Florida theater company is breaking the mold by making acting accessible to everyone.

Ernest Rodriguez, 46, was born with spina bifida but he hasn’t let that birth defect define him or prevent him from pursuing his passions.

“I love acting, I love plays,” Rodriguez said. “Broadway plays – that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Rodriguez is a member of the Inclusion Theater Project at Area Stage Company in Coral Gables where he attends class twice a week.

Rodriguez dreams of playing President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a Broadway production of “Annie.” To reach that goal, he has already had several lead roles on productions at Area Stage Company.

“There are actors who are born with some disabilities, but they are nonetheless actors … and we’re providing the opportunity for them to see their dreams realized,” Area Stage Company representative Maria Banda-Rodaz said. “It’s not focusing on what he can’t do, it’s focusing on what he can do. So I think, OK, if he can’t move his legs because he’s in a chair we can use his upper body – we can use his arms, he’s going to use the exact same movement.”

The Inclusion Theater Project features actors aged 5 and up with developmental disabilities. The Area Stage Company works on about 18 productions per year and South Florida residents are encouraged to enroll in the company or watch a production.

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