The Penguin Project® Presents Annie Jr.

Everyone’s favorite redhead goes on her first adventure in this 60-minute version of the popular Broadway musical. With equal measures of pluck and positivity, Little Orphan Annie is determined to find the parents who left her years ago on the doorstep of an orphanage run by the cruel Miss Hannigan. Annie eventually finds a new home and family with billionaire Daddy Warbucks, his secretary Grace, and a lovable mutt named Sandy. The Penguin Project® Presents Annie Jr. is a 60-minute Penguin Project performance, featuring a cast of youths with developmental disabilities.


About The Penguin Project®

A group of youths, ages 10-21, in a program called The Penguin Project® take to the stage to perform a modified version of a well-known Broadway musical. However, these productions are unique because all roles are filled by young artists with developmental disabilities including: Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, visual impairment, hearing impairment, and other neurological disorders.

They are joined on stage by a dedicated group of peer mentors—youths the same age without disabilities who have volunteered to work side-by-side with the artists through four months of rehearsals and to the final performance.

By providing access to community theatre, The Penguin Project® demonstrates that the special challenges of a disability should not handicap a child’s ability to participate in life’s experiences.

Established in 2004, The Penguin Project® has evolved into a national program with chapters throughout the United States. The program provides a supportive environment and has demonstrated that participation in the performing arts has therapeutic value by enhancing social interaction, communication skills, self-confidence, and self-esteem.

Does this sound like something your student would like? 

Join us for an informational meeting for parents, artists ages 10-21, and mentors ages 10-21:
Saturday, June 4, 2022 1:00-2:30 PM, at The Playhouse 
Get all your questions answered! Parents will learn more, and artists and mentors will have an opportunity to test-run a day of Penguin Project rehearsal.

Questions? Contact Annie Mielke, BCBA, Program Coordinator, 515.974.5360,

Performance Times:
7:00 PM Friday; 1:00 PM & 4:00 PM Saturday; 1:00 PM Sunday
Special Events
Run Time:
1 hour, performed without intermission
Content Advisory:
Playhouse family theatre productions are intended for ages 5 and up.

Press Release

Des Moines Playhouse Press Release
Subject: Des Moines Community Playhouse Announces Penguin Project
Contact: Lee Ann Bakros, Playhouse Marketing & Public Relations Director, 515-974-5358
Annie Mielke, Playhouse Penguin Project Program Coordinator, 515-974-5360

The Des Moines Community Playhouse is pleased to announce its participation in The Penguin Project. The Penguin Project is a national program that empowers youths with special needs through theatre. The Playhouse will hold an informational meeting for interested students and parents at 1:00 PM Saturday, June 4, 2022. Rehearsals beginning June 26, 2022, will culminate in public performances of Annie Jr. Oct. 14-16, 2022.

The Penguin Project is a national non-profit organization creating opportunities for young artists with special needs to participate in community theatre and share their creative talents. The casts of the productions are youths with Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, learning disabilities, and other neurological and developmental disorders. These artists are partnered with peer mentors, a group of youths who volunteer to work with the artists side-by-side through rehearsals and on stage. The Playhouse program coordinator is educator Annie Mielke, BCBA.

David Kilpatrick, executive director of The Playhouse, said, "We see The Penguin Project as a natural expansion of our programming. A significant goal with our recently completed building renovation was accessibility for all. As a community theatre, The Playhouse must serve the whole community of students, audiences, and volunteers both on our stages and as backstage volunteers."

Katy Merriman, Playhouse artistic director, said, "The Penguin Project has given us the tools and training to provide a safe and inspiring theatre experience for young people who have special needs. There is a place for everyone in the arts."

The Penguin Project was established in 2004 in Peoria, IL, by Dr. Andrew Morgan, a medical specialist involved in the diagnosis and treatment of children with disabilities. The Playhouse is the first chapter in Iowa and the thirty-fourth of 38 chapters in the United States. The name comes from the unique characteristics of penguins: They are playful, curious, work well together, and have a "disability" that distinguishes them from other birds in that they can't fly. Like the young artists in The Penguin Project, penguins have adapted to the challenges of their environment and refuse to allow those differences to interfere with their enjoyment or quality of life.

The Playhouse mission, as one of Iowa's largest and oldest producing theatres, is to create extraordinary, shared experiences through live theatre. Located at the 42nd Street exit of I-235, the theatre has presented a full season of shows since 1919 and also offers a wide variety of educational experiences including classes for ages 4 to adult, theatre trips to New York, and volunteer opportunities onstage and backstage.

For more information on The Penguin Project, contact Annie Mielke, program coordinator, at 515-974-5360.