‘Five O’Clock Club’ ready to hit stage

The public is invited to a night out Thursday as the Kiwanis Aktion Club Theatre of Fairmont presents its play “The Fairmont Five O’Clock Club” in the fellowship hall at Grace Lutheran Church.

Sponsored by the Early Risers Kiwanis Club, the performance begins at 5:15 p.m.

Lee Ann Erickson, program director with the Arc Southwest, shared some history on the Aktion Club as well as what people can expect in the play.

“The Arc is the original parent organization which started about 70 years ago,” she said. “So they were the organization at the time that we started, and at that time children with disabilities weren’t even allowed to go to school. Schools could take them if they behaved and sat still and didn’t cause trouble, but they didn’t have to.

“So that was the first thing the Arc worked on, getting services so that our sons and daughters could go to school. After that, they (the Arc) worked on a work program, and now we have STEP Inc. and MRCI. After that, they worked on places to live, and that’s when we started with REM and COR and HSI.

“Then we moved on to focusing on now that we had our people here in the community, we needed to make sure that they have a good life and are included and integrated into the community,” she said. “So we did dancing and bowling and softball, and eventually moved on to People First, which is a group for people with disabilities and run by people with disabilities. They decide what they want to be a part of and work on.”

At that point, the Arc came into contact with Wilbur Neushwander-Frink, the SAM (Self-Advocates Minnesota) Community Organizer in Mankato.

“She (Neushwander-Frink) is involved in theater, and 25 years ago she started a group in New Ulm of people with disabilities acting in plays,” Erickson said. “Then she took it to Mankato and she has a group there.

“When she took it to Mankato, she got connected with the Kiwanis Club and they were talking about Aktion Clubs, which the Kiwanis has been doing for about 40 years. When Wilbur stated putting on plays with her group in Mankato, that was something we weren’t doing down here. So she was willing to come down and we connected with the Kiwanis Early Riser Club and they agreed to take us on as a project and now we do Aktion Club Theatre.”

Erickson noted that the theater is the first place where people with disabilities can get on stage and perform.

“It lets them do something that they really enjoy doing,” she said. “We’ve had a few people that have been in Civic Summer Theater, but a lot just don’t have enough support. So that only happened very rarely, but now we give everybody that opportunity.

“That’s what Aktion Club is all about, expanding horizons and giving people opportunities, so they get to choose anything they want to do. If they want to sing, we don’t care if they can carry a tune. As long as they really enjoy doing this and enjoy performing, it’s what we want them to do.”

As far as the performance itself, each one is unique and depends on what participants want to perform.

“Wilbur writes her own plays and always includes a disabilities theme,” Erickson said. “She ties that in with their favorite songs. There’s singing and poems and dancing, so whatever talent they want to incorporate.

“A lot of people can’t read and can’t always memorize, but we have what are called shadows, who help tell them where to go or what to do. It really flows along and you forget the shadows are there.

“Wilbur has had people in wheelchairs that can’t speak, and they have a voice box that has their part spoken and they are recognized just like everybody else. Everybody who wants a part will have a part.”