Hannah Quigley, a rising senior at Glenelg Country School, wanted to find a way to combine her love of performing arts with her desire to help others.
Hoping to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest award in the Girl Scouts program, the 16-year-old Olney resident created Pals in Production, a collaborative project teaching performing arts to students with special needs.
Inspired by her uncle who has Down syndrome and participates in Special Olympics, Quigley said she wanted to create a similar opportunity for students who love the performing arts.
“I didn’t really see an opportunity like that for the arts for students here, and I certainly didn’t see anything where students with special needs were allowed to collaborate with their peers who didn’t have special needs, so I wanted to set one up,” Quigley said.
Launching the project last year, she worked with Howard County Special Olympics and county special education staff to recruit students from her school and the surrounding areas. She originally planned to host a full stage production at her school in Ellicott City, where students could perform alongside members in the performing arts department at Glenelg Country. Her plans were quickly derailed, however, by the coronavirus pandemic, which shuttered schools in Maryland in March 2020 and caused her to have to take the project online.
In August 2020, Quigley held her first virtual cabaret performance, with students performing duets and solos from home.
In June, she held her second virtual cabaret featuring 13 students performing 10 contemporary and traditional musical theater songs including, “Good Morning Baltimore” from “Hairspray,” “For Good” from “Wicked,” “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana,” “Part of Your World” from “The Little Mermaid” and “Somewhere” from “West Side Story.” Students participated from across the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, New York City and as far away as California, Quigley said.
“I came up with the cabaret idea last year because we had to completely move the program online,” Quigley said. “Every weekend I would have rehearsals with the students to go over their parts and their songs, and they would record them singing it and send it to me. [Then] I compiled everything into a final video.”
Ella Penny, 16, a rising junior at Oakdale High School in Frederick County, performed duets and solos in both cabaret performances.
Previously living in Howard County, she learned about the project through Howard County Special Olympics.
Singing “Waiting for Life” from “Once On This Island” and dancing to “Put On a Happy Face” from “Bye Bye Birdie” in the performance last month, Penny said she felt honored to be a part of the project.
“Sometimes when you audition for stuff, you’re never really given the opportunity because they see you as somebody who didn’t quite have the experience,” Penny said. “When you get the chance, it’s really memorable and really honorable, and you can see the joy in your heart when you’re honored to do something that you’ve never done before.”
Quigley, who recently earned her Gold Award, said she plans to continue the project in the fall and is looking forward to hosting a full stage production as schools reopen to fully in person.
She said it means a lot to her to be able to provide the project for students in her community.
“I just feel so grateful for everything that I’ve been able to accomplish and everything that the students have been able to accomplish, every day,” Quigley said. “Just hearing them say how much it means to them and to see their growth as performers during the course of the program is very fulfilling for me.”