There was no theater in town willing to give her son with Down Syndrome a starring role, so Leah Chapa created one. In 2017, she founded Center Stage PossABILITIES for Julian, her 15-year-old son.
Center Stage PossABILITIES is a faith-centered organization that creates an environment for people with special needs to express themselves artistically through theatre, an achievement that Chapa takes no praise or glory for launching.
Motivated by her faith, Chapa wanted to provide her son — and people like her son — a place to share fellowship and develop lasting relationships while having fun. Now, in 2018, Center Stage PossABILITIES prepares for its second theatre play “The Lion King of Judah,” a biblical interpretation of the popular 1994 animated Disney movie. The play is set to debut June 14 -15 at The Magik Theatre at 420 S. Alamo Street.
The Chapa family shares a passion for theatre.
In December 2015, Leah, husband Raul, and daughter Virginia, produced and starred in their own adaptation of the play “Beauty and the Beast.” Julian played the starring role of the beast in the production.
The family transformed their one-story home on the Northwest side of town into a theatre with curtains suspended from the ceiling and performed in front of a crowd of sixty friends and family all piled into the living room. When the final scene concluded and the curtains closed the house was filled with cheer, laughter, and clapping. The night would be a precursor for what was yet to come.
“We figured we would have to host theatre plays at our house from then on to allow him to enjoy what he loves doing most, and that is acting,” Chapa said.
In January 2017, Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas hosted a play featuring a full cast of people with disabilities. Leah Chapa attended the play and was invited by the director to attend the cast party where she saw the whole cast engaged with each other, relishing in a fellowship beyond the theatre walls.
“It wasn’t just about the play,” Chapa said. “It had to do with the community more so than the play.”
It was soon after witnessing those bonds between the cast members in Dallas that Chapa felt endowed with the duty to foster a similar organization in San Antonio that would become Center Stage Possabilities. Most of the rest of 2017 was spent materializing Chapas’ dream, a process she says required more work than she anticipated.
“I’m not a theatre person, but when I saw the community [in Dallas] I thought ‘I have to make that happen here,’” Chapa said.
In her quest to bring her organization to life, Chapa has met several people who had similar ambitions. In February of 2018, the University United Methodist Church in San Antonio agreed to host the premiere of “Beauty in the Bible,” a twist on Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” The play was produced by Center Stage Possabilities and included a full cast of special needs children. Beauty in the Bible sold out with an estimated 400 people in attendance.
Volunteers within the church community filed in to help share their support and parents of children with disabilities arrived with hopes to be a part of something new.
“This group has given the opportunity for my young adult to be a part of a community and be accepted and loved for who they are,” Rhonda Ebner said of her 15-year-old son Matthew who has tuberous sclerosis and was a participant in the previous play.
“Center Stage means being a part of a group,” Matthew Ebner said.
Presently, the organization is still paving its path as new concepts are incorporated to enrich the spiritual values that make the organization so strong. A future collaboration with one, well established local theatre company, is a testament to the wonders of those faith-based values and shed light on the future of Center Stage Possabilities.
JoJanie S. Moreno, director of education for The Magik Theatre, confirmed they will host Center Stage PossABILITIES next play in June, once they finalize details.
“We will be providing them with a director and hosting them in our space,” Moreno said. “We are helping them give these children the full theatrical experience,”
The vision for the organization Chapa explained, is to put together a play run as efficiently as possible by as many people with disabilities as possible. The online website for Center Stage PossABILITIES, acknowledges that much was learned from the first play. For the next play, the organization encourages more participants with disabilities to get involved. There will be more positions to fill both on and off the stage, such as ushering guests to their seats and assisting with concessions.