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Cast members from GEAR Productions — a group founded to “Give Everyone a Role” as their acronym states, act out a scene during a rehearsal of their upcoming ‘Memory Lane’ show at South Kingstown High School on Tuesday night.

WAKEFIELD, R.I. — GEAR is turning its wheels once again for a production this weekend called “Memory Lane” in which the audience goes on a stroll through the last decade of performances for this all-abilities theater company.

COVID stopped this local production company in 2020. This year as the pandemic recedes, GEAR – an acronmyn for the group’s official title of “Give Everyone A Role” — is hitting the stage again for the first time with a look back at its past shows.

“Because the 2020 show was to be a celebration of our 10th anniversary we decided to create a production that would be a review of our work thus far… a walk down Memory Lane,” said Beth Berry, director, organizer and long-time local enthusiast for giving anyone the opportunity to perform.

The shows will take place tomorrow evening at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m., with both performances in the South Kingstown High School Auditorium. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students and seniors and GEAR alumni are admitted free.

With Berry’s commitment, there is a “never say die” attitude toward keeping her unique opportunity for residents alive. Wife of Wakefield Baptist Church Minister Clay Berry, both share a desire to help people of all ages and bring joy and insight to their lives.

Revival of GEAR Post-Pandemic

“When the pandemic began in March 2020, we had cast and begun rehearsals for ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.’ We had over 65 people participating,” she explained.

“Then we sort of went into cryogenic suspension waiting for things to get better,” she added.

Despite the situation, quitting was never an option.

“I would see people who were part of the project out and around in town and they would ask me ‘When are we doing the show?’ They never gave up on it,” she said.

As COVID numbers dropped this summer and a return began to post-pandemic activities, she, her board of directors and some actors decided they should take up the production again.

However, things have changed.

“Unfortunately, people were in a much different place in 2022. Our Alice was getting married. The Red Queen and the Mock Turtle were off to college. Our musical director now had a full-time position at Moses Brown whose musical would be the same weekend in November,” Berry said.

“We debated casting multiple Alices, one for each scene, but in the end decided that was impractical,” she said.

So, a retrospective celebrating GEAR’s history, performances and shows brought to life by many area residents regardless of artistic training became the focus for the postponed anniversary celebration.

Berry has produced shows in several of South Kingstown’s schools. Many drew elementary students into productions and were based on their studies such as art history, anatomy and re-use of products or recycling.

Twelve years ago, she wanted to reach out to all community members, especially those with disabilities who might have felt they had nowhere else to perform.

As with the mission of inclusion her husband shared through his church activities, she wanted to draw people with challenges in their lives into the broader community of residents, activities and show they have support.

“I’m learning how to engage with them and find that thing that will make them light up,” she said in a previous interview about the all-abilities productions. Part of this community inclusion includes the teamwork that binds people long after stage productions are done.

This weekend’s shows will feature one scene from each of the 10 All Abilities shows GEAR has done since its creation.

There are scenes with traditional Broadway tunes like “Singing in the Rain” and ”Oklahoma,” and choreography to classical music by Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky.

Interspersed will be projected pictures from the original productions.

“We work hard to provide a positive performance experience for people of all ages and abilities,” Berry said, noting that about 35 people will be involved in this year’s production.

Assistance for those with challenges could come in a variety of ways, such as putting a tactile marker on the control rod so a visually impaired person can operate a fluorescent jellyfish without being able to see it.

It also involves Perspectives Corp. providing American Sign Language interpreters to make it possible for deaf and hard-of-hearing actors to understand her directions.

The other key component is many dedicated partners and sponsors who have worked with GEAR since the beginning, Berry said, adding, “It is not a one-person endeavor.“

Overcoming different kinds of challenges brings feelings of reward to the many all-abilities actors in this production. It even brings joy to Director Berry who feels a bit nervous after a pandemic hiatus.

“Truthfully, I felt a little creaky, like the Tinman in need of oil. But the joy and enthusiasm of our cast members soon had me oiled up and ready to get moving,” she said.

Write to Bill Seymour, freelance writer covering news and feature stories, at independent.southcountylife@gmail.com.

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