Friday, January 23, 2015

Livonia man discovers joy of acting


A 22-year-old man who doesn’t like just staying at home has discovered the world is a stage and he enjoys performing.
“At first I was a bit nervous but as time went by I got accustomed to performing in front of an audience,” said John Sondergaard of his dual roles as both peasant and king in performances of “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, a Very Hairy FAIRYTale
.” The play was a modified version of the original 1812 “Rapunzel” written by the Grimm Brothers.
Sondergaard, who took a drama class while attending John Glenn High School in Westland, practiced three days a week to be part of 40-member cast. The actors and actresses, ranging in age from about six to late teens, performed the play at the Costick Activities Center in Farmington Hills six times during two different weekends in November and December.
“I gained a lot,” said Sondergaard, who attends the Western Wayne Skill Center during the day studying to be an office worker. “I gained confidence, new friends and had fun.”
Sondergaard, who has a twin brother Jeff and two sisters, Emily, 30, and Katy, 29, said he “hopes to be in another play” in spring, perhaps “Mary Poppins.”
About 150 to 200 people attended each performance of “Rapunzel,” said Sondergaard’s father, Gary. Tickets were $10 per person.
John, who uses a wheelchair or walks with a walker, was the only person with a visual disability in the cast but became a mentor to some of the younger performers. As a result, he now says he hopes to eventually work with younger people because they seemed to gravitate to the nice looking pleasant young man who is soft-spoken and has an inviting smile.
“After I met with John, his dad brought out a book with lines for the play,” said Cynthia Sweet, a supports coordinator assistant at the Wayne County office in Livonia of the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. The center serves about 200 clients in Wayne and the office is supervised by Patricia Tate.
“I was taken aback because John knew the lines and the way he delivered the lines was very impressive,” said Sweet, who is studying for her Master’s degree in Social Work and hopes to incorporate animal assisted therapy utilizing dogs for therapy sessions with clients in all populations.
In his role as a peasant, Sondergaard talked to other villages. During one performance, his microphone wasn’t working properly but “you could still hear John” because he spoke loud and clearly, said Sweet.
The villain in the story was Zaza who had Rapunzel put in the tower until she could free herself by letting down her golden hair, Sondergaard said.
His ambition is “to continue learning. I am interested in child care, perhaps reading to them.”
Sondergaard also wrote an opinion piece about bullying which won a contest and was published in the John Glenn High School newspaper, “The Explorer.”
One line says: “I will not stand by and watch it (bullying) happen to anybody … I think the reason why people bully others is that they think they are big and bad. I am not a supporter of bullying.”
Others say Sondergaard with his new glasses looks a bit like Kevin Costner and they are right. After he performs a few more plays, Costner may have to look over his shoulder and make sure John isn’t beating him out for a movie role.
Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence and advocate-at-large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at (586) 263-8950.