Penguin+ Returns Fall 2024!

Learn more about Penguin+

The 2023-24 Season Penguin Project production was Disney’s High School Musical Jr, Oct. 13-15, 2023. The next program dates will be announced in spring 2024.

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.

“As a community theatre, The Playhouse works to find a place for anyone who wants to be a part of theatre. 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. We are so happy to host young artists and give them the chance to take to the stage. There is a place for everyone in the arts.” —Katy Merriman, Playhouse Artistic Director

Does this sound like something your student would like?

Contact Nate Weber, program coordinator, using the form below, or at 515.974.5360 or

Actor/Mentor Name(Required)
Parent/Guardian Name
I am interested in being a(n)(Required)

“When Dr. Morgan told us it would be a happy & safe place for our child to experience theatre, he was absolutely correct. The kindness, acceptance, and encouragement that we experienced at The Des Moines Playhouse made it such a positive and rewarding experience. I think the tearful goodbyes and the trading of numbers and social medial accounts say it all. The actors and mentors continue to stay in touch, weeks after the show is over! Thank you for your commitment to this program!” – Tricia, Parent of an artist in Annie Jr at The Playhouse

“Never before has something positively impacted us my son and me more. My son and I have gained friendships, confidence, and appreciation of theatre and community. We have never felt so valued and included. Each person’s differences were understood and their strengths were showcased and encouraged. Every person became a better version of themselves and will be forever changed for the better because of this project.” – Gretchen, Parent of an artist in Annie Jr at The Playhouse