What is WeirdBeard?
We are a group of creative and passionate volunteers who have come together to produce theatrical experiences using life-sized puppets in blacklight. Our puppeteers are youth and adults with Down syndrome and their families. In April, 2012, our inaugural production, The Three Little Pigs, opened to sold-out audiences at the Cape Breton University Boardmore Playhouse located in Sydney Nova Scotia, Canada.
How did WeirdBeard get Started?
My name is Joanie Cunningham, and I am the founder of WeirdBeard. My son, Nico, was born with Down syndrome in 2008. He spent the first three weeks of his life in intensive care with several health issues. During this stay, the nurses would point out how Nico would be be lying in the incubator kicking up his feet... he only weighed 4 pounds so that would require quite a strong will. Since then, Nico continues to demonstrate his strong will and has grown into an incredibly happy and active four-year-old. Nico inspired me to get to know other people living with Down syndrome and to try something incredibly fun together.
Once upon a time...
Planning began in the summer of 2010. I approached the Cape Breton Down Syndrome Society with this crazy idea... children's theatre, blacklight, huge puppets, and folks with Down syndrome operating the puppets. I am amazed, and very glad, that the society members didn't just toss me out. After all, this would be a huge leap of faith. But they did seem receptive, so off I went. First, a board of directors were recruited and a non-profit society was registered in Nova Scotia. We found a venue and enlisted the help of talented professionals involved in theatre and music. We convinced creative, driven people to learn how to build huge puppets that would glow under blacklight, and also be manageable for our puppeteers. We also got other professionals on board including: a graphic designer, a web designer, a photographer, a writer, a lighting and set designer, a printer, and someone who had experience in working with people with various challenges. And finally, we found a location to rehearse.
Skip ahead to the summer of 2011. Planning began specifically on The Three Little Pigs. I won't list off all the parts of the planning, but I will list off what we accomplished by April 2012...
- We wrote the script and created the puppets.
- We wrote and recorded the music, including 4 full length songs.
- We produced a video trailer, a music CD, and a full-color children’s book.
- We launched a website.
- We performed for sold-out audiences, and received standing ovations.
- We had entire audiences wear fake beards and sing a song with Mr WeirdBeard.
- We staged flash mobs with dancers from a local youth club as part of the show.
- We were awarded a contract to perform five more shows in April, 2013.
- We accomplished all the above in eight months and with less than $10,000.
- And, most importantly, we gave our puppeteers their chance to shine!
We are planning our next show, The Tortoise & The Hare, opening in the spring of 2014. This production will have more cast members, more songs, and a new audience inclusion event. I can't wait to see how it will all come together.
Spring 2014 is a long way off. But we can't let our puppeteers have so much time off... we will soon start rehearsing The Three Little Pigs for their new show dates in April, 2013.
WeirdBeard is not just for those living with Down syndrome, although they do have a lot of fun and get a great workout! It's also for their families and friends who will experience a live production, with lots of pride. And, it's for all the volunteers who are coming together to create that shared experience that only live theatre offers.
What We Need
It will cost about $10,000 to launch The Tortoise & The Hare. We have approximately $4,400 remaining from last year's fundraising activities and ticket sales. We are approaching local organizations for sponsorship. We hope to raise $3,000 through this online campaign. All together, I'm very hopeful that we can achieve the $10,000 goal.
Other Ways You Can Help
There are many ways you can help WeirdBeard
- Tell your Facebook friends about our campaign
- Come see our show
- Subscribe to our newsletter
- Check out our wish list on our website
- Read about our sponsors on our website and send some business their way
What is Down Syndrome?
Down syndrome is a naturally occurring chromosomal arrangement that has always existed and is universal across racial, gender and socio-economic lines. One in every 800 babies has Down syndrome. A person with Down syndrome has three copies of the 21st chromosome instead of two. The effects of this extra genetic material vary from person to person. For more information, please see the Canadian Down Syndrome Society website.
What is Blacklight?
Blacklight fixtures may look like normal fluorescent lamps or incandescent light bulbs, but they do something completely different. Switch one on, and white clothes, teeth and various other things glow in the dark. For example, if you have a fluorescent poster and shine a blacklight on it in a dark room, the poster will glow brightly. You may have also seen pieces of paper that look blank in regular light but spell out a glowing message under a blacklight. For more information see this website: How Stuff Works.