Making a ‘Major Impact’ on adults with disabilities

Bob Erio, board president at Major Impact Theater, dances while dressed as Cupid at the third annual Cupid’s Crush Dinner/Dance fundraiser at Bella Vida on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

Max Parrish has been acting for more than a decade, playing notable roles, like Mufasa in “Lion King,” Darth Vader in “Definitely Not Star Wars” and Sebastian in “Magical Waters,” a take on “The Little Mermaid,” to name a few.

Parrish has been a part of Major Impact Theater, a nonprofit theater troupe that strives to give adults with disabilities the opportunity to creatively express themselves, since its inception in 2014, and is now the president of MIT’s Actors Advisory Committee.

“Our last show was called ‘Roadkill,’ and I was Kermit the Frog, where I was this really weird character… who was mad at Miss Piggy,” he said, adding that he has enjoyed getting to play such a diverse range of characters. “It’s been great to be an actor all these years.”

Phillip Cobos and Janelle Spindt, Major Impact Theater actors, dance at the third annual Cupid’s Crush Dinner/Dance Fundraiser at Bella Vida on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. Courtesy of Linda Adams

As he watched a slideshow of photos from previous shows that was being projected on the wall during MIT’s third annual Cupid’s Crush Dinner/Dance on Sunday, Parrish reflected on those experiences. “You look back on it and say, ‘Hey, that was me up there being an actor, being a drummer.’”

For Parrish, it’s that ability to showcase his talents that keeps him coming back.

“I think one of the things that a lot of the actors get out of it (is that) it gives them a sense of a prideful identity that they can hang their hat on,” said Bob Erio, MIT board president.

Max Parrish and Shawnda Davis, left to right, perform at Major Impact Theater’s third annual Cupid’s Crush Dinner/Dance Fundraiser at Bella Vida on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. Courtesy of Linda Adams

Through each production, MIT makes sure to find a role for anyone who wants to participate, and like Parrish, each actor is very proud of their talents and takes pride in being able to say “I’m an actor,” Erio said.

“When they get on stage, they can get into this character that allows them some freedom of expression, to explore and be a little bit more open,” Erio added. “The smiles come out and the energy comes out… It’s a way to allow them to have a space where they can shine.”

Creative director and co-founder Shawnda Davis agreed, adding that giving actors the confidence to know they can do anything they want to is the best part.

Major Impact Theater actors and their families attend the third annual Cupid’s Crush Dinner/Dance Fundraiser at Bella Vida on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

Davis’ job is not only to make everyone shine but also to help them overcome any perceived limitations. “If there is something that they’re insecure or nervous about, after doing one show they end up (saying), ‘Yes, I can.’”

When each attendee walked into Cupid’s Crush, they had the opportunity to write a note, describing what they “crushed” in 2019, and later, some of those were read on stage by Maureen Spindt, the event’s chairperson and a board member.

While some were silly, others described the importance of MIT, like one that read, “I crushed two Major Impact Theater plays in 2019” and another from a parent that said, “I smiled really big when my son David performed on stage.”

Maureen Spindt, left, introduces Bob Erio and Martin, left to right, after a performance at Major Impact Theater’s third annual Cupid’s Crush Dinner/Dance Fundraiser at Bella Vida on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

“This is the largest fundraiser that we do, and all the proceeds go to Major Impact Theater,” said Courtney Andrews, administrative assistant for the troupe.

Those proceeds will go directly into putting on the two productions that MIT does each year, including bringing in movement coaches to help the actors learn their blocking and how to move around the stage as well as voice coaches to help with their vocal projection to ensure the audience can hear them, according to Andrews.

Many of MIT’s past productions have been a take on a popular musical or play, but this year’s upcoming production is something entirely different, according to Andrews. “Red Light in the Doorway,” a noir musical, is set to premiere in May.

Matt Adams and Amy Baldwin, Major Impact Theater actors, pose for a photo at the third annual Cupid’s Crush Dinner/Dance Fundraiser at Bella Vida on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. Courtesy of Linda Adams

“It’s the first time we’ve ventured into that (genre),” Andrews said. “We announced it at the cast party for ‘Roadkill’ last fall, and when the actors heard it was going to be like a murder mystery (type) of genre, they were all just so excited.”

The troupe has already begun rehearsals for the production, which Parrish said he believes is going to be the best show they’ve ever done.

“We’re really excited, and we’ve worked so hard on this show,” he said.

Marina Williams, left, a Major Impact Theater actor, poses for a photo with a therapy dog at the third annual Cupid’s Crush Dinner/Dance Fundraiser at Bella Vida on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. Courtesy of Linda Adams

As May begins to creep closer, Parrish has really fallen into his new role as president, excited to be able to mentor some of the other actors.

“We’ve been having a lot of rehearsal time,” he added. “They’ve been doing really well on their lines, (and) we’re looking really good right now. I’m very proud of the actors.”

For more information on Major Impact Theater, visit majorimpacttheater.org.

Major Impact Theater, a nonprofit theater troupe for adults with developmental disabilities, hosted its third annual Cupid’s Crush Dinner/Dance Fundraiser at Bella Vida on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

Bob Erio, board president at Major Impact Theater, dances while dressed as cupid at the third annual Cupid’s Crush Dinner/Dance Fundraiser at Bella Vida on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

Major Impact Theater actors and their families attend the third annual Cupid’s Crush Dinner/Dance Fundraiser at Bella Vida on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

Matt Adams, a Major Impact Theater actor, poses for a photo with a therapy dog at the third annual Cupid’s Crush Dinner/Dance Fundraiser at Bella Vida on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. Courtesy of Linda Adams

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