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Jan 10, 11

TLP Hosts Theatre Workshops

Normally, Timber Lake Playhouse (TLP) in Mount Carroll, Illinois sits dormant in the winter. The lively summer theatre often gets questions such as “What goes on at Timber Lake Playhouse during the winter?” This year, however, TLP administrative staff and Board of Directors, in celebration of the 50th Anniversary and a way to begin the expansion of its Magic Owl Educational Programming, decided to go into the community and teach theatre workshops at two local non-profit special needs organizations.

“Before becoming Managing Director at Timber Lake Playhouse, I worked with organizations that supported individuals with special needs and had taught theatre workshops at The Centers for Habilitation (TCH) in Tempe, AZ,” said Melissa Mattingly Parsons. Parsons met with Jon Murray from Rolling Hills Progress Center in Lanark and Karla Belzer at Exceptional Care & Training Center in Sterling to do theatre workshops for the holiday season.  The workshops consisted of going into each facility, getting to know the individuals in each facility and writing a play based on their likes and abilities. Each organization gave its input on the script, performed on December 23 at Rolling Hills Progress Center and January 26 at Exceptional Care & Training Center.

“What is important about working with these types of organizations is that each individual can take many things from the workshops. They use the theatrical arts to work on skills such as vocal exercises, range of motion, reading, working together with peers and arts and crafts. Individuals who were not performing were able to work on costumes, props and decorations for the play. A project like this enables an organization’s individuals, staff and administrators to work to together and feel good about what they present, “ Parsons said. “We took that idea a step further by also bridging three organizations within the community.” Rolling Hills employees who had performed the play in December were able to participate in the performance at Exceptional Care & Training Center.

The play that was presented at both organizations, titled Everyday Holidays, included songs with lyrics such as “The holidays the time we share in winter or in spring…the holidays are everyday with all the joy you bring.” Justin Harris, Program Coordinator at TCH, wrote the music to the lyrics of the songs from the play. Parsons said that it is important when writing a play for these organizations to have the theme that while we all have differences, we all are human beings. Rolling Hills Progress Center’s Executive Director Peter Hermes stated, “People with developmental disabilities want what everyone else wants, the chance to contribute to their family, their society and to enrich their own life.”

Parents and guardians were invited to the performances and in some cases drove several states away to attend. “It was a great program and we appreciated all the work that went into it,” stated one of the parents of an individual at Exceptional Care & Training Center. Karla Belzer, Program Director at Exceptional Care & Training Center said, “Our residents have never had an opportunity in their life to ‘perform.’  This workshop gave them their first chance to be part of a production – to experience applause.  We had over 50 parents and guardians attend the performance, which provided them a first opportunity as well – a chance to see their child perform.  It was truly and amazing experience that has our residents smiling to this day.”

All three organizations feel these types of partnerships are important for the community. Building relationships like these educates the public about programs for individuals with special needs as well as the arts; both necessary to the community and typically among the first programs cut in federal and state budgets.

To support these local non-profit organizations so they may continue these types of partnerships, visit their websites: Rolling Hills Progress Center at, Exceptional Care & Training Center at and Timber Lake Playhouse at

If your community organization would like to participate in a theatre workshop with Timber Lake Playhouse, visit the Education page on the website, call 815-244-2048 or email